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Training Tip: An experiment to rememberTraining Tip: An experiment to remember

A pilot is driving home after a VFR flight when an alert tone sounds on his cell phone. It’s not a ringtone assigned to a frequent caller. It’s not the office. This tone has a special meaning: Close your flight plan!
Don't forget to close your VFR flight plan!

Pilots cringe at the thought of getting a call from flight service after forgetting to close a VFR flight plan. The possibility deters some pilots from filing them despite knowing that doing so is strongly recommended by the FAA (but not mandatory).

The pros and cons are well known, the strongest pro being timely launch of search and rescue if an aircraft goes missing, the classic con being that embarrassing forgetting-to-close-it scenario.

If you are a pilot who avoids VFR flight plans—or files reluctantly because your flight school insists—consider revisiting the question before early 2017, when all domestic flight plans will start using the international flight plan form.

Granted, the switch doesn’t directly affect the flight plan debate. But ask yourself if avoidance might carry a higher cost than you think.

Two points stand out in a Real Pilot Story of a 2012 accident involving a Cessna 172 that crashed in mountains near Silver City, Idaho, in bad weather. One is that if the older aircraft had been equipped with shoulder harnesses, occupants’ injuries would have been less severe. The other point is that search and rescue would have commenced hours earlier if a VFR flight plan had been activated. (A relative knew the flight was airborne, but was uncertain when to consider it overdue.)

There are strategies for remembering to close a flight plan recommended by pilots in 2009 when the FAA Safety Team surveyed them on the question. “There was a remarkable consistency in your ideas,” the FAA said.

The key was to “interrupt your focus on the next task to ensure the flight plan has been closed. Here are the top four suggestions: Place a note on your car ignition or steering wheel. Set the alarm on your cell phone. Put your watch on the other wrist. Put your wallet or your car keys in a different pocket.”

Let the coming of the new flight plan form serve similarly, as a reminder for you to devise your own strategy.

Test it out, then decide if the experiment changes your thinking about the famously "cheap insurance” of a VFR flight plan.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: ATC, Pilot Training and Certification, Flight Training
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