Checking flight plans can seem quite difficult to do at first, so we want to try and create a nice and easy guide to make your life easier when it comes to checking flight plans at an aerodrome level as well as point out some of the key things that are usually wrong with them.
When checking the callsign, you need to make sure that they have filed with the ICAO format, this means that there is the three-letter airline designator, followed by numbers and letters. Some of the common mistakes include pilots filing using their IATA code, for example, filing as VS35G, or using their full callsign, for example, VIRGIN35G. If the pilot has not filed using the ICAO code then politely ask if they could disconnect and reconnect using the ICAO format. For a list of airline ICAO codes, click here.
This one is a bit less of an issue, however, you should select whether the aircraft is IFR or VFR, as this helps other controllers further down the line, as some pilots may be flying VFR but be using a commercial callsign which may confuse controllers down the line.
Keeping the aircraft type up to date it important, as it affects other controllers, by letting them know about what wake turbulence and speed group aircraft are in. This is filled in in the ICAO format. So for this example, the aircraft type is a Boeing 747-400, so the ICAO format is B744. For a list of aircraft ICAO codes, click here
Departure and destination airports
Checking the departure and arrival airports is key to ensuring that the pilot does what the flight plan says. The system may still show an old flight plan that they no longer intend to fly, may have filed from the wrong airport or may have used IATA codes instead of ICAO codes. The pilot can also file an alternate airport, which means that ATC knows where the aircraft will divert to if it cannot land at it’s intended destination airport. The first letter in the ICAO codes depicts what region of the world the aircraft is in, for example, in EGKK, the E depicts that the country is based in northern Europe. The second letter depicts what country in that region the airport is based, for example, the G in EGKK depicts that the airport is based in the UK. The last two letters are random. For a list of the regions and country ICAO codes click here
This section is filed in by the pilot and represents what true airspeed the pilot thinks he will fly at, and is the speed that the pilot sees in the cockpit. This is not as important at a ground level, but is more important at an en-route level, as it allows the controller to have a gauge at what speed the plane will likely fly at
This section of the flight plan refers to what altitude the pilot is intending to cruise at. It is important to check the cruising altitude, to make sure that one is present, and that the cruising altitude of the flight fits in with local restrictions. In the example above, the cruising altitude is 0, which is incorrect and would need to be changed to something more suitable
Allocated squawk code
This is important as it indicates what squawk code has been assigned to the aircraft, if the squawk code given to an aircraft changes, then this needs to be changed in the flight plan too. The reason for this is due to code/callsign correlation and allows for mode A verification, however, this will be discussed in a different post later on. As a delivery or ground controller, you also need to make sure that this is a valid squawk code, this means that the squawk code is not reserved for any special uses, and is not a local squawk for your aerodrome (unless told otherwise by a different controller)
Departure and arrival times
The departure estimated and actual times are used in the everyday environment to let you know when the pilot is expecting to be ready to pushback, the actual time can be filled in with the actual off the blocks time to keep a track of when aircraft have pushed back, if you are considering implementing slot times. If slot times are being used then the estimated departure time is the same as the expected push back time, as this can allow you to keep track of when to push aircraft back, and can be used to let pilots know of their slot times as well
The temporary altitude is used primarily with VFR aircraft or aerodromes outside of controlled airspace, where the altitude that the aircraft may initially climb to does not end in a 0 or a 5. For example, at Biggin Hill, IFR standard departures will usually climb to 2400 feet, so to keep track of this 2,400 is inputted into the temporary altitude field.
Enroute and fuel times
The en-route times and the amount of fuel in hours times are usually optional in flight simulators, however, they can be used by en-route controllers and approach controllers to determine how much endurance the aircraft has, so that they know who they can hold for longer periods, and who they think may need to divert quite early on. These fields can only be filed in by pilots and not controllers, as controllers do not know how much time flights will take or how much fuel they will take, as they vary day by day based on the weather, type of aircraft, cost index, etc.
Requested flight level
This indicates if the requested altitude that the pilot is requesting when that would be below the requested cruising altitude. This allows controllers further down the line know that the aircraft wants to potentially stop his climb lower than the cruising altitude.
Flight plan routing
Checking the routing in a flight plan is important. If the aircraft intends to fly on a SID, then the first waypoint should be the end of the SID, so that Euroscope can automatically assign the SID to the aircraft. The routing should contain airways, as this means that the en-route controllers will better be able to sequence aircraft into streams as per local procedures. The flightplan should be as similar to the standard routing document, produced by NATS, as possible. Example 1 is a perfect flight plan, it contains airways and waypoints, matches that of the standard rpoute document, and POL fits with the POL departure out of manchester. The second flight route is wrong, as the rotuing does not contain airways, meaning that it would make en-route controller’s jobs harder to do. as the aircraft may cut up other aircraft’s routes. The third flight route is incorrect, as there are no waypoints present, whilst this is ok for aircraft intentding to remain outside of controlled airspace, for a commericial flight entering controlled airspace, this is incorrect and could cause issues for the flight later down the line.