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Planning for Safety: Flight Plans

by Myron Yoder

What is the purpose of filing a flight plan? Increased safety! If you go flying and don’t show up at a scheduled time, someone with a lot of valuable information about your trip will start looking for you. Lockheed Martin FSS (Flight Service Station) is contracted by the FAA to process and monitor flight plans. There are two basic steps of action for making use of this flight plan safety tool: filing and activating.

feature_flight_1To put a flight plan on file, most people use either an app on their iPad or an online service such as DUAT or DUATS, or by calling Flight Service at 1 (800) WX–BRIEF [that’s 1 (800) 992–7433]. Flight plans can be filed well in advance, but for various reasons, such as having current weather information, it is normally best to file your flight plan within a couple of hours of your intended time of departure.

To activate your flight plan, you need to talk with Flight Service, either on the ground via telephone or in the air via radio. If you’re sure you’ll remember to update your flight plan if your schedule changes, you may go ahead and activate your flight plan by providing Flight Service with an assumed departure time. However, the preferred method of activating your flight plan is via the radio after takeoff. The correct Flight Service radio frequency is easily found on the sectional chart. In the Fort Wayne area, Terre Haute Radio is available on 122.2 and 122.45.

Once you’ve activated a flight plan, you have to close or update it before the time runs out on it, in order to prevent embarrassing calls from Flight Service trying to make sure you’re ok. To help prevent forgetting to contact Flight Service (along with the resulting phone calls and sheriff visits to the airport), try to develop the good habit of closing your flight plan via cell phone before you exit the airplane. Another method of closing flight plans is to close it over the radio once you’ve spotted your destination on the horizon. It’s also a good idea to include your cell-phone number in your flight plan so that if you forget, they call you first.

To help make the filing process easier, you may find it helpful to set up a pilot profile with Flight Service by calling the briefer and requesting a pilot profile. The profile is connected to your phone number. Once you set it up, the briefer will answer the phone, knowing almost half the information required for the flight plan.