Nov. 9, 2016

A recently published FAA Information for Operators (InFO) notice reiterates the importance of properly communicating aircraft and crew capabilities to air traffic controllers through a flight plan form developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Pilots flying RNAV procedures in the U.S., or operating internationally, have used the new form since 2012. Pilots flying IFR within the United States are expected to use the ICAO form early next year. While crews should find the transition generally familiar, two new fields may give operators pause.

The ICAO flight plan requires “much greater detail about the capabilities of the aircraft and its crew,” said John Kosak, program manager for weather at NBAA Air Traffic Services. “The codes placed in Fields 10 and 18 more clearly detail what specific departure, enroute and approach clearances you’re able to accept from air traffic control on each flight.”

Read the FAA InFO notice.

In addition to promoting improved safety and efficiency in the national airspace system, crews using the proper codes are more likely to receive the best routes for their equipage and training, “without sitting in a ‘penalty box’ as they wait for their flight plan to be corrected, watching other flights depart,” Kosak added.

Rich Boll, chairman of the NBAA Access Committee’s ATC, Airspace and Flight Technologies Working Group, was on the industry team that offered guidance to the FAA regarding the new codes. “Flight plan codes are key to ATC automation that applies separation standards, and incorrect codes jeopardize aircraft separation and increase controller workload, resulting in potential pilot deviations and FAA enforcement action,” Boll said.

“Furthermore, pilots cannot rely upon “canned” defaults entered by their service provider,” he added. “Codes are dynamic based on aircraft equipage, FAA authorizations, airspace specifications, crew qualifications and inoperative equipment.”

While the FAA hasn’t issued a specific date for the ICAO flight-plan requirement for domestic IFR operators, the latest guidance from the agency indicates that the transition will be made in the first quarter of 2017.