November 19, 2012
By Jim Moore
Editor’s note: This is a corrected version of an article published Nov. 15 that contained inaccurate information about flight plan filing requirements. According to the FAA, operators may continue to use the flight plan format they used prior to Nov. 15.
Any operator who filed an FAA domestic flight plan before Nov. 15 should still be able to do so, according to an FAA official contacted by AOPA.
“Our intent was not to change any of our rules with regard to who has to file ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) and who has to file domestic,” said Ray Ahlberg, flight planning lead with FAA operations support. “We did not intend to introduce any change.”
Any operator who filed an FAA domestic flight plan prior to Nov. 15, when the ICAO flight plan form was revised and the FAA updated its guidance on flight plan filing requirements, should still be able to do so, Ahlberg said.
International flights, including flights to Mexico and Canada and operations within oceanic airspace (regardless of departure or destination), are required to file ICAO flight plans, as they have been. Ahlberg said there is anecdotal evidence that controllers may have accepted FAA domestic flight plans to and from Canada in the recent past, but that is no longer the case.
In general, operators who are now required to file ICAO-format flight plans were already doing so, Ahlberg said, though there remains at least one “gray area” regarding flights that use reduced separation vertical separation minimum (RSVM), operations conducted exclusively above 29,000 feet, Ahlberg said. While the FAA’s website states that flights expecting routes based on performance based navigation (PBN) must file an ICAO flight plan, Ahlberg said that does not, in practice, apply to GA operators who use Wide Area Augmentation System-capable GPS for routes and procedures—devices that may or may not fall under the PBN definition as applied under ICAO flight planning requirements. While the ICAO flight plan is far more specific, using the alternative (FAA domestic) to file a plan that includes GPS procedures will not trigger rejection.
“There’s nothing changed in the computers,” Ahlberg said, noting that much of the more detailed data collected by the newly revised ICAO flight plan is not currently transmitted to ATC, anyway. GA operators “shouldn’t be denied a route or denied service” filing an FAA domestic flight plan, Ahlberg said.
Filing requirements relevant to GA operators may change in the future if it is deemed useful to provide controllers (and the computers used to issue IFR routes) with more detailed information about on-board equipment. Alhberg said he would suggest a simplified version of the ICAO form if it comes to that.
“The goal for us is to ask for the minimum information” required to complete the flight, Ahlberg said.
While the FAA states a preference for using the ICAO flight plan from now on, Ahlberg said he would not recommend GA operators switch for the sake of switching.
Ahlberg said he nonetheless recommends the status quo “if you’re filing a domestic flight plan today and not having any trouble getting your service.”
AOPA Online Associate Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot who enjoys competition aerobatics.
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