Pilot Products: Online flight planners

Feature-rich tools for the pocketbook conscious

September 1, 2010

When it comes to flight planning, modern technology and innovation has given us untold options. You can still plan with paper and pencil, but computer programs and websites can do it faster, and often much better. Although buying a full and integrated program is sometimes worth it, we take a look at the free online versions to see if they merit the time investment.


FlightAware

FlightAware is known as the go-to site to track commercial and private aircraft by N number. But in July 2009 the company rolled out an online flight planner that provides traditional flight planning tools—heading, distance, fuel required, time en route—along with additional options that make this site a standout. Preselected data fields for aircraft profiles make the process smoother once you’ve used it once or twice.

Features:

  • Matrix with flight times based on winds aloft.
  • Pre-loaded aircraft profiles.
  • Easy, suggested routing.
  • Flight plan filing and nav logs.

Reviewer comments:

Jill W. Tallman, associate editor
Private pilot, instrument rating, 575 hours

“The myriad features of this planner will delight a left-brain person. It does seem designed for the instrument-rated pilot; it chooses routes based on those that air traffic control has recently assigned, and when you plug in a destination, it automatically shows you nearby airports with instrument approach procedures—helpful for selecting alternates.”

Pros:

  • Navlog displays approach procedures, current METAR/TAF, and car rental information for both departure and destination airport; less clicking to get the info.
  • Can file directly with DUAT/DUATS.

Cons:

  • Must log in to access planner; what if I’m on the road and can’t remember my password?

Navmonster

Despite its somewhat silly-sounding name, Navmonster.com is a seriously helpful flight-planning site and my favorite, by far, for VFR trips. Navmonster is quick and easy to navigate, borrows content liberally from other places (graphics from Weather.com, fuel prices from AirNav.com, flight-plan filing from DUATS.com), and its “Tripkit” feature can make even chronically disorganized pilots (like me) seem like master planners in the cockpit. Tripkit creates customized PDF files that allow pilots to pick and choose the weather, notams, TFRs, airport diagrams, and A/D information relevant to their flights and—at the touch of a mouse—print out a small booklet that allows them to avoid fumbling between multiple books and charts in flight.

Features:

  • Tripkit.
  • No login required.
  • Access to hotels, restaurants nearby.

Reviewer comments:

Dave Hirschman, senior editor
ATP/CFII, more than 5,500 hours

“Tripkits from Navmonster have quickly become indispensable for cross-countries. The last thing I do on the computer before any VFR trip is visit Navmonster, scroll over my planned route, and review any changes to weather or TFRs at a glance.”

Pros:

  • Simple, quick, visual, free.

Cons:

  • Text in printouts is sometimes garbled.

AOPA Internet Flight Planner

Free for all AOPA members, the AOPA Internet Flight Planner is a resource that crosses numerous platforms to give pilots complete information. Users can store airplanes, pilot information, and routes. The flight planning map is of high quality, which allows for easy route manipulation and searching. There’s also easy access to weather, a kneeboard printout of the flight plan, and flight-plan filing. Finally, its quick and easy connection to AOPA Airports means users have the power of the directory for all of their airport needs.

Features:

  • Flight planning, weather, flight plan filing.
  • High-quality display and easy user interface.
  • Connection to AOPA Airports and all that it offers.

Reviewer comments:

Ian J. Twombly, associate editor
Commercial pilot, CFI/CFII, 1,100 hours

“AOPA’s Internet Flight Planner is a great way to get the big picture on a flight, thanks to easy access from the AOPA home page and its wonderful detailed map.”

Pros:

  • Flight planning is quick and easy.
  • One-stop shop with access to weather briefings, weather graph- ics, and flight-plan filing.
  • High-quality graphics display.

Cons:

  • No longer a way to rubberband route.
  • Lack of recent user and ATC routing suggestions.

CSC DUATS

CSC’s DUATS flight planner is one of the first free online flight planners made available. It’s showing its age in terms of presentation, but the information is more relevant than ever. Its user interface, while not containing nice visual elements such as charts, is easy and quick to navigate. Of note, CSC offers Golden Eagle, a free flight planner users can download that does contain more robust resources.

Features:

  • Official weather briefings and easy filing planning and flight plan filing.
  • Routing options include user generated, airway, direct, and VOR direct.
  • Aircraft and pilot information can be stored.

Reviewer comments:

Joey Colleran, AOPA Airport Support Network director
Private Pilot ASEL, ASES, 175 hours

“The textual weather briefing was a bit overwhelming at first, but scrolling through the information I ran across surface observations in plain language that clearly indicated the weather at various airports along my route. It provided near-real-time weather.”

Pros:

  • I called to “test” their customer service and after only pushing two buttons, I got a very knowledgeable and helpful representative!
  • Ability to easily file domestic and/or ICAO flight plan.
  • Save routes for future flights.

Cons:

  • Lack of flight planning graphics.
  • Cumbersome to use the first time.

FltPlan.com

Long a staple of corporate flight departments everywhere, FltPlan.com is gaining traction among light GA users. The site features a basic and direct user interface and focuses only on flight planning and flight plan filing. After logging in, the user can use preloaded aircraft data or make their own, and then start planning. This is done in a similar fashion to the FAA flight plan form, and usually takes just a minute or two. Most routes also feature previous user-filed routes and ATC-assigned routes, which is very helpful over unfamiliar routes. Weather and quick access to flight plan filing is also available.

Features:

  • Basic flight planning.
  • Clear kneeboard printouts.
  • Flight plan filing.
  • Weather.

Reviewer comments:

Ian J. Twombly, associate editor
Commercial pilot, CFI/CFII, 1,100 hours

“Although FltPlan.com isn’t the best-looking website or the easiest to navigate, it packs quite a punch. The site is legendary for having accurate en route times and fuel burn calculations.”

Pros:

  • Incredibly accurate flight times and fuel burn.
  • No-fuss flight planning.
  • Preloaded aircraft profiles are very handy.

Cons:

  • Site not always user-friendly.
  • Involved process to file flight plan the first time.
  • User-defined routing sometimes cumbersome.