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Pilot Decision Making

PILOT DECISION MAKING

Lindell Wilson, WVFC CFI LindellWilson@PilotNow.com

VFR Flight Plan - Open/Update/Close

Last month we briefly discussed how to file a flight plan with a live (via phone) briefer. You can also get a weather briefing and file a VFR flight plan via DUAT/DUATS or by using flight planning software. This month we will look at How-To examples for opening, updating, and closing a flight plan. First, let’s start with a basic question. Why file and open a flight plan? One possible answer is… although the FAA does not require a VFR flight plan, it is a recommended practice for cross country flights greater than 50 nautical miles between departure and arrival airports. You can actually file a flight plan for any flight, even to the airport next door. The flight plan (when opened) provides the pilot a search-and-rescue safety net in the event he/she does not arrive at the destination. Someone will start looking for the aircraft using the information provided in the flight plan. The flight plan service is available free to pilots.

Flight Plan Open/Update/Close – pilots are sometimes confused with the flight plan procedures. Below are several possible how-to examples;

1)     Pilot is departing SQL, destination RNO (Reno/Tahoe)

a.     Option 1 – (without VFR flight following, not recommended)

                                               i.     Open – after takeoff and exiting SQL class D (and frequency change is approved by SQL tower) contact Oakland Radio (122.5 or 122.2). Say “Oakland Radio, Skyhawk 1234, seven miles south-east of Hayward on 122.5, request open VFR flight plan from SQL to RNO at 1000 Zulu”. Oakland Radio will respond, “Skyhawk 1234, Oakland Radio, flight plan open, appreciate PIREPs on flight watch 122.0, have a nice flight”. This example assumes the aircraft is approximately over Coyote Hills and not inside any of the adjacent Class B, C, or D airspace.

                                             ii.     En-route – without VFR flight following (not recommended), pilot will likely not communicate with any ATC between the Bay Area and the Reno Area.

                                            iii.     Close - with Reno Radio (122.5 or 122.2) before entering Reno Class C, and approximately 25 miles from RNO, say “Reno Radio, Skyhawk N1234, twenty-five miles south-east of RNO on 122.5, request close my VFR flight plan from SQL to RNO”.  Reno Radio responds, “Skyhawk 1234, Reno Radio, flight plan is closed”. Next, the pilot should contact NorCal (Reno) on 119.2 for Class C transition and landing at RNO.

                                            iv.     Close – (if not closed in the air with Reno Radio) after landing RNO, phone Flight Service Station (FSS) at 800-WX-BRIEF and close the flight plan.

b.     Option 2 – (with VFR flight following, recommended)

                                               i.     Contact SQL ground when ready to taxi. Request taxi to SQL runway (normal taxi request) AND “Request VFR flight following to RNO”.  SQL ground will provide taxi instructions AND a departure (NorCal) frequency and squawk code.

                                             ii.     After takeoff at SQL, tower should provide a communications handoff (upon leaving SQL class D) to NorCal.

                                            iii.     Stay with NorCal until north-east (outside) of Oakland class C … and/or Hayward class D. Then ask NorCal (example) “NorCal, Skyhawk 1234, Request a temporary frequency change to Oakland Radio to open my VFR flight plan”. NorCal will say, “Skyhawk 1234, NorCal, frequency change approved, report back on my frequency 125.35”.

                                            iv.     Open – change frequency to Oakland Radio (122.5 or 122.2) and say (example) “Oakland Radio, Skyhawk 1234, ten miles east of Hayward on 122.5, request open my VFR flight plan from SQL to RNO at 1000 zulu”. Oakland Radio will respond with “Skyhawk 1234, Oakland Radio, flight plan open, appreciate PIREPs on flight watch 122.0, have a nice flight”. Switch the frequency back to NorCal and say “NorCal, Skyhawk 1234, back with you”.

                                              v.     En-route - stay with NorCal (near Bay Area) / Oakland Center / NorCal (near Reno) until approximately 25 miles from RNO.

                                            vi.     Close – say to (Reno) NorCal, “NorCal, Skyhawk 1234, Request a temporary frequency change to Reno Radio to close my VFR flight plan”. NorCal will say, “Skyhawk 1234, NorCal, frequency change approved, report back on my frequency 119.2”.

                                           vii.     Close - with Reno Radio (122.5 or 122.2) say, “Reno Radio, Skyhawk N1234, twenty-five miles south-east of RNO on 122.5, request close my VFR flight plan from SQL to RNO”. Reno Radio responds, “Skyhawk 1234, Reno Radio, flight plan is closed”. Then re-contact NorCal (Reno) on 119.2 for Class C transition and landing at RNO.

                                         viii.     Close – (if not closed in the air with Reno Radio) after landing RNO, phone Flight Service Station (FSS) at 800-WX-BRIEF and close the flight plan.

2)     Update to Flight Plan –

a.     Before the flight –

                                               i.     Updates can be easily made to a flight plan including; departure time, flight plan duration (ex. adding/subtracting time),  aircraft N#, new route, en-route stops (i.e. fuel, food, etc.) simply by phoning FSS (800-WX-BRIEF) and request to amend your previously filed VFR flight plan.

                                             ii.     Pilots can also request updates to their weather briefing information for departure, en-route, and destination.

b.     In flight – Updates can be easily made by calling (via radio) the nearest FSS (ex. Oakland or Reno Radio) and request the same information as in 2)a.i. above. Pilots can request updates to their weather information for en-route and destination and/or provide PIREPs by contacting Flight Watch on 122.0.

Next month we will compare the benefits of VFR Flight Plans versus VFR Flight Following.  Happy Spring Flying.

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