The latest enhancements to the AOPA Flight Planner include a long-awaited integration with Leidos Flight Service and an interactive, easier-to-view visual route brief that highlights pertinent information. Previously, pilots had to hunt for specifics among a clutter of text-based information—a laborious process that could bury meaningful details along an intended route of flight.
That information is now displayed visually and available at a pilot’s fingertips by clicking or hovering over features along an intended route.
When a user points to different objects, additional detail about those elements pops into view, with interactivity that can make flight planning a breeze rather than a chore. For example, clustering informational elements on the chart avoids the clutter and background chatter that tended to mask important pieces of information with text-based briefings “so you are not getting overwhelmed with information,” said Rush.
“That’s why we call it interactive,” he explained.
Conditions such as airmets are easier to read and understand because they are depicted graphically and superimposed over a route. “That’s kind of a nice thing about the AOPA Flight Planner briefing,” he explained. “Now you can see where your route is in reference to these graphical elements.” The enhancements take a lot of the guesswork out of a briefing. Previously, pilots had to try to visualize what the expected flight conditions would be as they listened to a telephone report from a flight service specialist.
Pointing to a particular reference area on the flight planner route shows a summary that is overlaid along the route of flight, and when a particular item is active, the details can be viewed in a side window.
Rush added that the new interactive AOPA Flight Planner makes deciphering certain notices to airmen easier, too. Leidos Flight Service “flags” certain notams as critical and some as cautionary, giving them their own visual section within the route briefing explanation boxes.
Notably, adverse conditions, which could be anything from temporary flight restrictions to closed runways, “bubble up” to the top of the interactive side window, and the information is presented with a graphical feature that draws eyes—and attention—to it. In essence, a flight briefer and a pilot can digest the information at the same time so any questions can be easily answered by a flight service specialist.
For weather along an intended route, color-coded symbols indicate current conditions. Green symbolizes VFR, blue indicates marginal VFR, red depicts IFR, and magenta represents low IFR. Accompanying details can be presented in plain English or raw data depending on what a pilot prefers. Scrolling to a reporting station on the main map page also automatically scrolls the side window to its accompanying details and outlines them for easy visual reference.
Rush added that terminal area forecasts (TAF) along a route are presented in a chronological fashion based on a pilot’s expected crossing time through that area. “Another useful feature that pilots might enjoy is an indication of when the TAF will change. It’s particularly useful when forecast conditions shift and it may alert pilots to significant weather changes just before, or just after, they cross those points.”
And for pilots who prefer the legacy-style, text-based briefing, those are still available. A dedicated item at the bottom of the section menu allows the entire briefing to be viewed in one large text block, just like previous versions. “We hope people will begin to transition to the interactive graphical briefing though, since the information is much easier to visualize,” Rush said.
FAA domestic and ICAO flight plans may be filed directly from the AOPA Flight Planner to Leidos Flight Service or CSRA DUATS. They also may be printed, amended, or canceled. Previously, a pilot needing to change a flight plan on the ground had to dial a telephone number and speak to briefing personnel or let the flight plan expire before opening it. “This is something AOPA members really wanted,” Rush explained, noting that pilots also will receive an email confirmation whenever they file a flight plan.
Pilots filing an IFR flight plan from the AOPA Flight Planner “will also receive expected routing from Leidos via that email confirmation,” which is handy for last-minute routing changes. They can email that modified routing back to themselves for importing into their favorite electronic flight bag—enhancing the improvements even further.
“We’re hopeful the AOPA Flight Planner updates will really allow pilots to explore their intended route in an easy-to-view graphical way for better understanding,” he concluded.