Moving the start date back from Oct. 1 gives flight service vendors more time to develop and test software, and allows AOPA to work cooperatively with the FAA to simplify guidance that will be available to help pilots adjust to changes in filing their flight plans.
The FAA international flight plan form aligns with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) flight plan form and has been tailored to accommodate some features specific to operations in the National Airspace System, said Rune Duke, AOPA director of airspace and air traffic.
“The FAA has committed to ensuring there is at least a 30-day transition period during which pilots can file SFRA flight plans using the international form or the domestic form," said Duke. "The transition to ICAO format for SFRA flights will result in no filing changes for pilots because the data blocks will be filled out the same way.”
Pilots can already file IFR or VFR flight plans using the international flight plan form. AOPA and the FAA encourage pilots to use the international flight plan form for non-SFRA flights to ensure they are prepared for the removal of the domestic form next year, he added.
Members who are ready to make the transition immediately can use the AOPA Flight Planner to file international flight plan forms as well as FAA domestic flight plan forms. The ICAO Equipment form in the flight planner provides an easy-to-use interface that helps pilots select the correct equipment codes.
The FAA has issued an informal guidance document that highlights changes a pilot will encounter when filling out the international flight plan form. Some modifications have been made to allow for features that pertain exclusively to flight within the National Airspace System.
The following are examples of equipment codes that will appear on the international flight plan form:
You can find your aircraft’s hex code, which is also known as the “Mode S Address,” “ICAO code,” or “24 bit address,” by using the aircraft registry and searching for your aircraft.
Note that an ADS-B In frequency capability will not affect services; future air traffic applications that would require that information are still in development.
The international flight plan format will be required for VFR flights to Canada as well as across the National Airspace System, with the exception of military flight operations.
After submission of a flight plan through DUATS, a flight plan may be amended electronically through DUATS until 47 minutes before departure. Later changes must be made through flight service, or for dispatch operations, through center flight data.
For search-and-rescue purposes, all VFR flight plans will transmit supplementary flight plan information to the departure and destination using the ICAO SPL message. “This means that the supplemental flight plan data such as the pilot’s name and number of souls on board will transfer with the VFR Flight Plan, although in a separate message. This applies to VFR only, as en route systems do not have the capability to store this extra data,” he said.
Currently the FAA’s three flight service vendors, Lockheed Martin, CSRA (DUATS), and Harris (in Alaska) are developing their flight plan software upgrades to ensure interoperability with NAV CANADA and air traffic automation.
Meanwhile, AOPA has been providing input as the FAA continues to update the SFRA training course, which should be available along with additional flight plan guidance before January, Duke said.
He added that AOPA strongly encourages pilots to file VFR flight plans whenever they fly cross-country for the safety and search-and-rescue services they offer. This accident case study about a Cessna 172 that crashed in the mountains on a VFR flight in mountainous terrain without a VFR flight plan on file with flight service demonstrates how a rescue effort was delayed by the lack of an estimated time of arrival at the Idaho destination.
“Calling flight service to file a VFR flight plan, or filing online, should be the same as it is now with the international flight plan form, so VFR pilots should continue to use this FAA-provided service,” he said.
An abbreviated discussion of the international flight plan form can be found in Section 5-1-9 of the Aeronautical Information Manual, which the FAA is looking at updating as part of its work to provide simplified filing guidance to pilots.
The FAA also has a flight planning website that includes guidance on how to fill out the international flight plan form with examples included.