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Pilot Decision Making

PILOT DECISION MAKING

Lindell Wilson, WVFC CFI LindellWilson@PilotNow.com

VFR Flight Plan versus Flight Following?

Last month we discussed how to file, open and close a VFR flight plan. This month let’s explore the question that many pilots ask, “Which is best? … should I open a VFR flight plan OR request VFR flight following?”

The answer is simple. Yes to both. It is recommended to file/open/close a flight plan AND request flight following.  Below is a table which compares the features of VFR flight plans and VFR flight following. You can add your own comments too.

 

VFR Flight Plan

VFR Flight Following

Optional - Is an optional (but highly recommended) service, provided by Flight Service (FS), to trigger a search-and-rescue (SAR) operation if the pilot does not arrive at the expected time at their destination. The flight plan provides SAR information; aircraft departure/arrival airports, route, ETE, ETA, fuel onboard, souls onboard, home base, aircraft color/type, pilot contact info, etc.

Optional - Is an optional service, In-flight-traffic-advisories is provided by ATC on a workload available basis, only in radar coverage, and does not guarantee separation. ATC can provide other en-route flight information (i.e. significant weather).

File – The pilot files a flight plan with Flight Service (FS) before flight, but can also file en-route (less desirable) if Flight Service has time. Pilot MUST additionally open and close flight plan with FS.

Request – Flight following can be requested with ground/tower prior to takeoff OR requested from ATC after takeoff.

Search and Rescue (SAR) – Yes.

If the pilot does not arrive at the expect time, then SAR will be triggered.

Search and Rescue (SAR) – Not available.

However, ATC may have an approximate (last known) aircraft position if within radar coverage, and possibly the destination airport.

Availability – Always available.

Availability – Only within ATC radar coverage, and on an ATC workload available basis.

Traffic Advisories – Not available

Traffic Advisories – Yes.

Note: Traffic advisories are provided by ATC on a workload available basis, only within radar coverage, and does not guarantee separation.

Changes – The pilot can easily call FS during flight (or prior to flight) to amend their flight plan including route, time, stops, destination, etc.

Changes – The pilot can easily request a change to their flight route, altitude (not required, but best practice), and destination via ATC.

File, Open and Closing flight plan – The pilot must file, open and close their flight plan with Flight Service in-order to be provide the service.

Request and Terminate flight following – The pilot must request flight following in-order to be provide the service by ATC. The pilot must terminate (stop) ATC flight following when the pilot wishes to stop flight following.

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