July 8, 2013

As basic flight students, most pilots learned how to file and close a flight plan. But in an era of increased air traffic density and enhanced communication, NBAA Air Traffic Services Specialist Jim McClay argues that may not be enough.

McClay is one of the principle forces behind a new educational initiative called FileSmart, located online at www.filesmart.org, which encourages operators to file early, file accurately and take in the current status of the National Airspace System (NAS) before filing.

FileSmart was unveiled on June 6 at NBAA’s White Plains Business Aviation Regional Forum. It was developed by, and in cooperation with, NBAA, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and National Air Transportation Association.

File Early

“Make sure your flight plan is in the FAA’s system as early as possible,” said McClay. “Ideally, this should be before there are any traffic management initiatives in the system.”

That approach is contrary to the current practice of some operators who insist on filing their flight plans immediately prior to departure. Doing so, McClay warned, puts operators at risk for significant flight delays.

“Having that flight plan in the system early allows FAA to have a more accurate snapshot of the information controllers need for planning purposes. Flights that file after initiatives like ground delay programs (GDPs) or airspace flow programs (AFPs) are put into effect will often be delayed even more if they’re filed at the last minute,” McClay explained. “There’s an additional delay imposed on aircraft that come into the system after these programs are initiated. Those that file early get in at the front of the line.”

File Accurately

While some operators file their flight plans for a planned departure 30 to 60 minutes ahead of their actual departure, hoping that this will minimize ground delays prior to takeoff, McClay said that strategy could wind up to be self-defeating.

“You can end up with an EDCT [expect departure clearance time] time ahead of your actual planned departure,” he pointed out.

Additionally, filing GPS Direct, as many flight crews tend to do these days, can actually cause more problems, he said.

“The point here is that filing direct is usually not the best course of action,” said McClay. “This is especially true if you’re going into busy airspace or high-density airports. You’re probably not going to get direct routing and when you don’t, that requires more coordination from air traffic managers.”

A third aspect of filing accurately is filing in the correct format, said McClay.

“There have been recent, significant changes to fields pertaining to equipment and crew capabilities,” he cautioned. “Filing a correctly completed ICAO format flight plan allows the FAA to know in advance your capabilities. That can reduce your delay and delays throughout the system.”

Checking the NAS

You check the weather before you fly, and in the same manner, McClay suggests pilots check the status of the NAS.

“It’s like checking weather and NOTAMs,” he said. “Doing this allows you to understand what is happening in the airspace around you. You can see what programs are in place, anticipate metering delays – there’s so much that’s so readily available. It’s just a mouse click away.”