Flight plan flight planning

In the Aeronautical Information Manual, the FAA urges every pilot to file a flight plan with the FAA that specifies information relating to the intended flight. For flights under IFR, a flight plan is required; for flights under VFR, a flight plan is optional.

By completing a domestic flight plan form, you are advising the FAA of your planned flight, including identifying your aircraft, your departure and arrival points, your route of flight and its duration, the number of people on board, and your name and contact information. The flight plan allows the FAA to know where you’re going and to look for you if you do not arrive within a reasonable period of time. For VFR flights, the FAA views the pilot’s filing of a flight plan as “an excellent low cost insurance policy” that someone will be looking for you if you become overdue at your destination and will ensure you receive VFR search and rescue protection. 

For either VFR or IFR flight plans, you must follow certain procedures to be in compliance with the regulations when using a flight plan. For example, be sure to remember that it is the pilot’s responsibility to close the flight plan upon the flight’s completion. For both VFR and IFR flight plans, FAR 91.153(b) and 91.169(d) state, “When a flight plan has been activated, the pilot in command, upon cancelling or completing the flight under the flight plan, shall notify an FAA Flight Service Station or ATC facility.”

In the case of IFR operations, your flight plan is normally cancelled by ATC if you’ve landed at an airport with a functioning control tower. However, in VFR flight plan circumstances, do not assume that the control tower will automatically close your flight plan for you because ATC does not always know whether a particular VFR aircraft is on a flight plan. For both IFR and VFR, when landing at nontowered fields, you can cancel your flight plan with ATC in the air, assuming you’re in conditions above VFR minimums and able to land VFR, or you can close the flight plan as soon as you can once you’re on the ground with either FSS or other means of direct communication with ATC. Failure to make sure your flight plan is closed could subject you to FAA enforcement action.

Kathy Yodice
Kathy Yodice
Ms. Yodice is an instrument rated private pilot and experienced aviation attorney who is licensed to practice law in Maryland and the District of Columbia. She is active in several local and national aviation associations, and co-owns a Piper Cherokee and flies the family Piper J-3 Cub.
Topics: Flight Planning, Training and Safety, Pilot Weather Briefing Services

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