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ICAO flight plan requirement begins next week – here’s how to comply

You'll be required to file all flight plans using the ICAO format later this year.
You’ll soon be required to file all flight plans using the ICAO format.

After several years of delays, the requirement to file flight plans in U.S. using the ICAO format is finally here. Beginning on August 27, 2019, all flight plans must be submitted using the international standard form.

Fortunately, most of the major iPad apps and online web planning services support the ICAO flight plan form as an option when submitting a flight plan, so the infrastructure is in place to make it an easy transition for you.

After a quick glance, you’ll notice that the ICAO form requires much of the same information as the domestic form. The big difference is that you’ll need to include your airplane’s navigation, communication, surveillance (transponder) and survival equipment in greater detail. While this may seem intimidating at first, you’ll only need to do it once when setting up your airplane’s profile in the app and it’ll be saved for future use. Here we’re going to take a look at the actual information needed and some sample airplane configurations to help make this initial setup easier.

Setting up your airplane profile

The ICAO flight plan form requires you to identify each part of your avionics configuration.

We’re going to focus on ForeFlight, Garmin Pilot and FltPlan.com for this discussion since they all offer ICAO flight plan support. While all 3 ultimately require the same set of information, some of the equipment requirements are grouped together differently in each program, which can lead to confusion. For that reason, we’re going to help you identify your equipment first, which will make it easier to then enter in your specific application.

In ForeFlight, go to the More tab, select Aircraft from the options on the left, and here you can either add a new aircraft or modify an existing one. You’ll see fields to enter the ICAO equipment details towards the bottom of the screen after selecting one of the N#s from the list.

In Garmin Pilot, select Home at the top left of the screen, tap Settings from the Menu icons, and then choose Aircraft from the options on the left. Just like with ForeFlight, you can either add a new aircraft or modify one of your existing profiles.

FltPlan.com app users can use the web interface to enter flight plans, and this is also the place to go to enter your ICAO aircraft data. Once logged in, select Settings from the menu on the left side of the screen, and then A/C ICAO Data.

The exact layout of each app’s aircraft profile data-entry screen varies a bit, but in the end, they’re all looking for the same information to ensure you meet the ICAO requirements:

  • Basic Airplane Data–The first step is to enter the standard data, like N#, aircraft type, color and the home airport. Something new you’ll see is Wake Turbulence Category, and you’ll enter Light (L) here when under 15,500 lbs.
  • Communication Radios–Most GA airplanes are equipped with VHF radios, so this is the only selection necessary here. If your radio has 8.33 kHz spacing and allows you to select the 3rd decimal place when tuning in a frequency (e.g. 122.975 vs. 122.97), select that option as well.
  • Navigation and Approach Aids–Here you’ll specify which type of navigation radios are on board. The most common selections are ADF, GPS (listed sometimes as GNSS), DME, ILS, VOR and LPV (if you have an approach-approved WAAS GPS). You can also use the “S” code if you have the standard configuration of VOR, VHF radio and ILS receiver. If you have a GPS receiver that meets a minimum level of performance-based navigation (see next bullet point on PBN), you’ll also use the “R” code here to indicate that capability. You probably don’t have any of the other equipment options listed in this group like ACARS/SATCOM/CPDLC (unless you own an Airbus or a Boeing jet), so skip those options and continue on.
  • Performance-Based Navigation (PBN)–This grouping is used to identify the RNAV & RNP capabilities of your GPS receiver if installed. This is one of the more confusing aspects of the form, but fortunately, Garmin publishes a “cheat sheet” to help you out if you have a Garmin GPS or glass cockpit system in your panel: Garmin ICAO Flight Plan Equipment Codes.  In this file, you’ll see 3 tabs across the bottom — choose the first one, labeled ICAO Flight Plans & Eligibility. This will list out exactly what codes to select in the PBN category for your particular setup.
  • Surveillance–The upcoming ADS-B out requirement has expanded the number of transponder options and configurations available. There are 2 parts to the ICAO equipment requirement: first, identify the transponder type, and second specify the ADS-B capabilities. If you have a Garmin transponder installed, refer back to their Excel spreadsheet and go to the 3rd tab, labeled ICAO Surveillance Equipment for help. If you’re not ADS-B out equipped, you’ll only enter one code–most likely code “C” for a Mode C transponder or code “S” for a Mode S transponder.
  • Survival Equipment–The last step is to add is any survival equipment on board, including life jackets, emergency radios and dinghies. In Garmin and FltPlan.com you’ll enter this data when setting up the aircraft profile, while ForeFlight has you list any survival equipment when filling out each individual flight plan form.

ICAO Flight Plan Tips

It doesn’t take long to be overwhelmed by all the information required. Take your time and be thorough with your airplane’s assessment. Garmin Pilot includes helpful tips for each field while filling out the data and a comprehensive filing resource here. ForeFlight offers an ICAO Filing Manual, How-to blog and video to guide you along the way. The FAA also offers helpful guidance in their international filing guide.

Both the Garmin Pilot app and ForeFlight are now compatible with select Garmin panel-mount avionics.
Check with your avionics manufacturer for help on specific equipment codes to select.

The best advice is if you’re unsure of whether or not you have a piece of navigation equipment on the list, leave it unchecked, as this is what ATC will look at when clearing you for advanced routes and procedures. It’s the not the end of the world if you mess this up–it’s more important for high-altitude RVSM aircraft, international flights and when flying to busy airports where RNAV arrivals and approaches are used. If you’re still unsure, check with your avionics manufacturer, as they will be able to help you identify the specific codes for your GPS and transponder configuration.

We came across one point of confusion to be aware of: the code B1 is used in two different areas and means 2 completely different things. In the surveillance section, it is used to categorize an ADS-B transponder with dedicated 1090 MHz ADS-B “out” capability. You’ll also see B1 in the PBN section, which is used to identify RNAV 5 capability.

Some of the forms will also ask for your Mode S transponder’s unique Hex Code, which is required if you’re equipped with an ADS-B out transponder. You can look up your code using your airplane’s N# on the FAA registry site.

Finally, we’ll point out that you only should identify certified, panel-mount ADS-B in/out equipment in the Surveillance section, and not portables. While there are equipment codes for ADS-B in capabilities, portable receivers like Stratus and Garmin GDL-50 should not be included here.

Sample aircraft:

Putting this all together, here are some example configurations and respective equipment codes:

Cessna 172 Dual Nav/Com, Bendix/King Mode S transponder, SkyBeacon ADS-B Out

ICAO Equipment: “S” (standard VOR, VHF, ILS)

ICAO Surveillance: “S” (Mode S Transponder), “U1” (ADS-B, UAT/978 Out)

ICAO PBN: leave this blank, since you’re not RNAV/GPS equipped

Cirrus SR22 Dual Garmin 430W Nav/Comm/GPS, Garmin GTX345 Transponder

ICAO Equipment: “S” (standard VOR, VHF, ILS), “Y” (VHF 8.33 kHz spacing), “G” (GNSS), “B” (LPV), “R” (PBN approved)

ICAO Surveillance: “E” (Mode S, ID, Altitude, Extended Squitter), “B2” (ADS-B 1090 MHz Extended Squitter, in and out)

ICAO PBN: A1, B2, C2, D2, L1, O2, S1, S2 (RNAV 10/5/2/1, RNP 4/1/Appch)

Bonanza A36 Garmin G500 TXi, Garmin GTN650 Nav/Comm/GPS, Apprareo Stratus ESG transponder

ICAO Equipment: “S” (standard VOR, VHF, ILS), “Y” (VHF 8.33 kHz spacing), “G” (GNSS), “B” (LPV), “R” (PBN approved)

ICAO Surveillance: ICAO Surveillance: “L” (Mode S Transponder, Enhanced Surveillance, Extended Squitter), “B1” (ADS-B with dedicated 1090 MHz ADS-B “out” capability)

ICAO PBN: A1, B2, C2, D2, L1, O2, S1, S2 (RNAV 10/5/2/1, RNP 4/1/Appch)

Filing an ICAO Flight Plan

The ICAO flight plan form in ForeFlight looks very similar to the FAA domestic form.

So here’s the good news–all the hard work is now behind you. Once your aircraft profile is set up in the app, filing the actual ICAO flight plan before a flight is really no different than filing a domestic flight plan. In ForeFlight go to the Flights tab, and at the top of the form select ICAO as the type, instead of FAA/Domestic. This is filed the same way through Flight Service, and the main difference is you’ll see a few extra fields to list out any emergency equipment on board.

Garmin Pilot handles ICAO flight plans the same way. When in the Trip Planning section of the app, tap the Filing Information at the top of the flight plan form, and select ICAO as the form type.

Here are few videos from ForeFlight and Garmin with additional instructions on filing with the ICAO flight plan form:

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Five overlooked ForeFlight features

ForeFlight has gained a loyal following in part by continuously adding features, so the ForeFlight of two years ago looks almost unrecognizable today. That’s great news for pilots, who get powerful new tools seemingly every month, but it does mean that some features occasionally get lost in the shuffle.

Here’s a look at five helpful features in ForeFlight that you may not be using.

1 – Nearest Weather.

The Airports page has a wealth of information, from frequencies to runway data to fuel prices, but most of it is organized around a specific airport (often your departure or destination). Sometimes, though, you just want to get a quick idea of nearby weather conditions. While you could go to the Maps page and tap on a bunch of METAR symbols, this takes time.

A quicker and simpler option is to tap the crosshair button at the top right corner of the Airports page. This will show all the airports closest to your current position that report weather. At a glance you can see the wind, ceiling and visibility in your immediate area. Is that fog only at the one airport in the river valley or is it widespread? With one tap you can find out.

2 – Set speed/altitude at a waypoint. 

Entering a cruising altitude in the FPL box in ForeFlight is essential for proper route planning – the app will calculate a highly accurate time en route and fuel burn total based on winds aloft forecasts. But what If you’re flying a flight with legs at multiple altitudes? For example, maybe you need to fly 30 miles below a Class B shelf before climbing up to cruise altitude.

Fortunately, ForeFlight has a handy feature that allows you to specify a speed or altitude at specific waypoints. From the Maps page, enter a route in the FPL box, then tap on a waypoint. A drop-down menu will show a variety of options, including set speed/altitude. Tap that option to set a specific altitude and/or speed. In the example below, we are planning to cross the LUCIT intersection at 3000 feet, IFR. Note that this won’t update your time en route calculations, but it’s a handy reminder if you’re creating your own route and it’s also useful for European pilots who may have to frequently change altitudes on cross-country flights.

3 – Content Packs.

Last year ForeFlight introduced Content Packs for all Plus subscribers, a way to import custom data and display it in the app. This includes map layers, waypoints, and documents, and is useful for all kinds of pilots. The easiest way to use Content Packs is to download a sample ForeFlight pack and modify it, but it’s also fairly straightforward to create your own .zip file and email it to your iPad. Then you can open it in ForeFlight and add it to the Custom Content page under the More tab.

In the example below, we’ve created a custom map layer for the practice area at Sporty’s Academy (our flight school), so student pilots can stay aware of the boundaries. Once the Content Pack was imported, we simply went to the Maps page, tapped the layers menu and selected the custom layer at the bottom.

4 – FBO directions.

This is a simple problem, but one that is easily solved by ForeFlight: you’ve finished your lunch or meeting and it’s time to head back to the airport, but you don’t know how to get there. Simply open ForeFlight, go to the Airports page and tap on the FBO button. The pop-up window shows options for calling them (phone symbol), emailing them (letter symbol), or getting directions (arrow symbol). Just tap the arrow and the address will open up in the Maps app on your device. Tap Directions to start navigation. It’s a fast and reliable way to get turn-by-turn directions.

5 – Takeoff and landing performance.

This requires a Performance Plus subscription, but it’s a surprisingly helpful tool. Sure, jet pilots are very concerned about runway performance, but plenty of Cirrus and Mooney pilots should be too – especially in summer. Instead of guessing whether that 3100 foot runway is long enough, ForeFlight makes it incredibly easy to calculate the exact numbers, including runway slope, wind direction, and airplane weight.

From the Flights page, create a flight then tap the Takeoff button next to your departure airport or the Landing button next to your destination airport. That will bring up a new page with runway and weather information pre-filled. You can adjust all the values to play around with different scenarios, and get a very precise takeoff/landing distance, plus Vref (approach speed) and climb performance. Like weight and balance, there’s no excuse for failing to run the numbers every time.

For more ForeFlight tips, check out Sporty’s Flying with ForeFlight Course.

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FAA Seeks Stakeholder Input on Drone Tests

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a Request for Information (RFI) this week seeking to work with stakeholders on the administration of a new aeronautical knowledge test for recreational drone operators.

Section 349 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 requires new conditions to operate recreational small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Many drones can be flown today with minimal training or knowledge of aviation rules or safety practices. The new statute is an opportunity to educate recreational flyers on UAS safety and to bring new flyers into the existing aviation safety culture.

The law requires that flyers of recreational drones pass an aeronautical knowledge and safety test. The test will demonstrate a recreational flyers understanding of aeronautical safety knowledge and rules for operating a UAS.

The FAA is developing the test content and the training in consultation with stakeholders. The test must be administered electronically by the FAA, community-based organizations, or other persons designated by the FAA. The FAAs objective is to work with third party entities to allow them to administer the knowledge training and test content on various platforms for the recreational flyer community.

The FAA is looking for entities who want to become testing designees, who will administer the training and testing to the widest audience possible, and who will develop a standard electronic record that will be issued to the potential operator upon completion of the test. The entity will provide the potential drone operator with documentation that they passed the test, which may be requested by the FAA or local law enforcement.

Interested parties should review the RFI and respond by September 12, 2019.

Source: FAAFAA Seeks Stakeholder Input on Drone Tests