The FAA is moving forward with plans to require all civil domestic flights to use the international flight plan form beginning later this year. The agency has announced that it has begun making changes to flight plan software and educational materials to address the change, and AOPA is providing regular input on the process.
“We want this transition to go as smoothly as possible for pilots,” said Rune Duke, AOPA director of airspace and air traffic. “So we are looking closely at the various ways this will affect flight plan filing and working to ensure training courses are updated before the switch and that pilots are educated about the changes in advance.”
The FAA has said it is in the process of updating the training course for flying in the Washington, D.C., Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA), changing pilot knowledge exams, and updating the Aeronautical Information Manual. AOPA has asked the FAA to consider a complete update to the SFRA training course and to ensure that needed changes are in place before the switch to the new form takes effect.
In the meantime the FAA has released a new video on flight service, and the three flight service vendors—CSC, Harris, and Lockheed Martin—have also said they are preparing for the switch away from the domestic flight plan form. The FAA is also planning additional outreach regarding the changes, including attending all 2016 AOPA Regional Fly-In events, FAAST Blasts, and articles in the FAA Safety Briefing.
The FAA has set an Oct. 1 date to make the transition and end use of the domestic flight plan form, but the agency has also said it will not complete the switch until all flight service vendors are ready, and AOPA is asking for an overlap period to allow pilots to make the transition, both of which could push the final transition date to later in the year.
The international form previously was not able to address a number of situations found on the domestic flight plan form, and the FAA is in the process of making needed changes to accommodate those situations.
Software changes are being made to allow the international flight plan form to accept up to 11 characters in the destination and departure fields, making it possible to accept a five-character SFRA gate identifier, latitude and longitude, or VOR/DME radial information. The software will also be changed to accept codes for non-ICAO airports, removing the need to enter ZZZZ as the identifier for these airports. The FAA is also adding a new option for Field 8, Flight Rules, to allow for Defense VFR (DVFR) flight plans.
Pilots flying in the Washington, D.C., SFRA will still be required to type in the altitude as they do now, for example, “VFR/035,” to provide useful information for air traffic controllers and as a reminder that they are operating within the SFRA.
“We encourage pilots new to the international format to visit AOPA’s online flight planner as it offers user-friendly drop-down menus and helpful hints,” said Duke. “At first glance the form can appear to be very complicated, but after going through the process once it should be fairly straight forward. Now is a great time to learn the format as the deadline is still at least nine months away and the pressure is off.”
The FAA had originally planned to switch to the international form in October of 2015, but AOPA objected to the short notice and unresolved issues with Form 7233-4, which did not allow for filing an SFRA or DVFR flight plan, among other limitations. The FAA also provides a method to comment on flight services, including flight plans, via its website.