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NBAA Air Traffic Services Provides Holiday Flight-Planning Tips

Dec. 19, 2014

The volume of air traffic will increase from now through Jan. 2, but NBAA Air Traffic Services is offering a number of tips that will make navigating the national airspace system (NAS) easier during this busy period.

Most of this helpful guidance can be found in FileSmart, an FAA/industry initiative designed to educate aircraft operators about the importance of filing timely and accurate flight plans in order to help avoid air traffic delays and operate more efficiently. FileSmart contains three main components: file early, file accurately and check the status of the NAS.

File Early

By filing a flight plan as early as possible (preferably the night before a flight), operators become "known demand" within the FAA's traffic management system. This enables air traffic managers to make better decisions regarding the type of traffic management initiatives (TMIs) that might be needed to help mitigate delays throughout the system. In some cases, by having an accurate picture of business aviation demand in addition to commercial demand, air traffic managers are able to avoid implementing unnecessary TMIs, which benefits everyone. This will be especially important when flying to places like Colorado's Aspen and Eagle airports this year, as those ski country airports are using TMIs instead of the old special traffic management programs. TMIs will be implemented at those Colorado airports first thing in the morning, usually no later than 13Z. Flights filed after the implementation of a TMI are more likely to suffer substantial delays compared to flights filed the night before.

File Accurately

The next step is getting an accurate flight plan into the system. To do so, operators need to file a realistic departure time. Over the years, many pilots have settled into a pattern in which they file a flight plan with a departure time that is 30 minutes earlier than when they actually plan to depart. This creates an issue in the traffic management system, as business aviation departures are expected at the wrong time, which can lead to unnecessary TMIs.

The next two steps really go together. You need to file a flight plan with a route that the system recognizes. Under most circumstances, this would be a "preferred route" found in the National Flight Data Center Preferred Route Database.

During the holiday season, when there are numerous days with excess traffic volume, operators need to monitor the Current Reroutes page for the current recommended and required reroutes. The recommended routes are ones that the FAA Command Center believes will help mitigate delays by taking traffic off the over-burdened preferred routes. If too few operators use the recommended routes, or if the volume is just too heavy, the Command Center will assign required routes. Filing the correct route saves time because you won't be waiting for ATC to amend your clearance at departure time.

The final step in accurate flight plan filing is to use the ICAO flight plan, with specific attention to Fields #10 and #18, which tell air traffic managers exactly what you and your aircraft are capable of as far as training and equipage are concerned. This is especially important in regards to your RNAV capabilities.

Check the Status of the NAS

The final step is to check the status of the NAS. This includes several of the web pages we've mentioned previously, as well as the following:

  • The Operational Information System (OIS) is a real-time "at-a-glance" overview of what is going on in the NAS. It includes information on the major TMIs, such as ground stops, ground delay programs and airspace flow programs.
  • The Advisory Database page is another powerful tool that basically records everything that is going on in the NAS during the day. An "Operations Plan" is issued every two hours after the ATC national planning telecons and contains the Command Center's plans for the next six hours or more.
  • The National Playbook contains all of the routes the Command Center would use to create recommended and required reroutes due to excess traffic, most notably the AZEZU and ATLANTIC routes (found in the regional section), which are used during the holidays, when possible, to relieve the inland volume through Washington Center.