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Training Tip: Flight plan mandateTraining Tip: Flight plan mandate

Here’s a practice exercise you should be sure to add to your pre-flight-lesson planning starting in late August: File a VFR flight plan using the international flight plan format.

Don't let unfamiliarity with the ICAO flight plan form catch you unprepared on your practical test. Photo by Mike Fizer.

One reason to do so is that “familiarization training”—on procedures, equipment, and techniques—is how pilots of all experience keep up their continuing education.

Need another reason? The designated pilot examiner who conducts your practical test will be interested to know if you are staying informed on changes in the flight planning system.

Even if you file domestic flight plans regularly, it’s time to make the switch, because as of Aug. 27 Form 7233-4, which conforms to International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards, will be mandatory for all flight-plan filing—a fact of which your DPE will be quite aware.

If you haven’t filed a VFR flight plan recently, familiarization with the international flight plan form is recommended to show you the differences from its forerunner, the long-familiar domestic flight plan form.

If the ICAO flight plan form is new to you, try using an online flight planning screen instead of printing out the paper Form 7233-4 for your familiarization session.

When filing a practice VFR flight plan for a 45-nautical-mile VFR flight I have been waiting for a chance to fly, I used AOPA’s Flight Planner. I brought up the ICAO format by clicking the ICAO option in the Flight plan type area of the flight planning screen.

When filing online, drop-down menus spare you the need to look up items like the numerous codes for “surveillance equipment” such as transponders and Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) installations.

On-screen messages keep you moving by prompting you to complete required fields. Note that flight routings require inserting “DCT” (direct) between navaids, unlike the domestic form.

The international form assigns your aircraft a wake turbulence code. It’s L, for light, up to a maximum takeoff weight of 15,500 pounds.

If you have been reading about this transition for a while, you may know that at one time, filing departure or destination airports that lacked standard identifiers involved additional work. That’s now been remedied.

Much guidance about the ICAO flight plan form has been published, and an appendix will eventually be added to the Aeronautical Information Manual.

The brief time you invest in familiarizing yourself with the ICAO flight plan form will prove educational, and also practical, as soon as a late August checkride.

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: FAA Information and Services, Pilot Weather Briefing Services, Training and Safety
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