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U.S. pilots won't have to use 'foreign' flight plans, thanks to AOPA persistenceU.S. pilots won't have to use 'foreign' flight plans, thanks to AOPA persistence

U.S. pilots won't have to wrestle with the unfamiliar ICAO flight plan form thanks to persistent efforts by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

The FAA has been planning for years to scrap the familiar FAA flight plan form and switch to the more complicated international flight plan form. And for just as many years AOPA has been saying, "That just doesn't make sense." The FAA has finally agreed.

"On any given day, the United States has more aircraft movements than the rest of the world combined," said Dennis Roberts, AOPA vice president and executive director of government and technical affairs. "It has never made sense to force U.S. pilots to use the more complex international form that asks for information that has no bearing on our domestic flight operations."

The ICAO form asks for data in a different order than the FAA's form 7233-1, which pilots have been using for generations. In addition, it also requires such extraneous information as "number of dinghies" on board and "wake turbulence category."

"The international form offers no benefits to U.S. pilots," said Roberts, "and the additional complexity might discourage some pilots from filing VFR flight plans. Also, adopting the ICAO form would cost a bundle in pilot notification and re-education."

AOPA has argued for more than 15 years against the international form for U.S. operations. In 1995, AOPA told the FAA that computer software could "translate" the U.S. form to the international form for transmission to international flight agencies.

AOPA, working with industry groups, also developed a "universal flight plan form" that kept the simplicity and order of the FAA flight plan form while meeting international ICAO guidelines. The FAA rejected that idea as well, insisting that the FAA would eventually require U.S. pilots to use the ICAO form.

In December, AOPA President Phil Boyer personally wrote the FAA, again pointing out that the switch to the international flight plan form could have an "immediate and profound" impact on aviation safety.

The FAA finally turned around, promising to keep the old familiar form as long as it was technically feasible.

In a January letter to Boyer, the FAA said, "We are pursuing the development of an automation approach that will permit pilots filing flight plans whose routes of flight will remain with domestic airspace under either visual flight rules (VFR) or instrument flight rules (IFR) to continue to utilize the current FAA flight plan format."

The FAA said pilots flying to destinations outside of U.S. airspace would be required to use the ICAO flight plan.

But the FAA also hedged its bets, telling AOPA that, "Since there is risk involved in the development of this automation approach, in the event that a satisfactory solution cannot be developed, the FAA will coordinate such so as to ascertain the potential impact to your organization."

"The impact," said AOPA's Roberts, "would be on all pilots. AOPA will hold the FAA to its commitment to continue using the standard flight plan form that every U.S. aviator knows and understands."

The 365,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the world's largest civil aviation organization. More than one half of U.S. pilots are AOPA members.

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