(originally published in the Mooney Aircraft Pilots Association Log, December 2012)
On November 15th, the FAA made a big change in the world of flight planning that has, for the most part gone pretty much unnoticed, until, that is, you try to file an ICAO Flight Plan and find out there’s a lot of new letters and numbers that weren’t there before. This change had actually been in the works for over four years, but November 15th was the cutover day where all ICAO Flight Plans must use the new Flight Plan 2012 format. Since I just finished upgrading FlightAware’s flight planner to support Flight Plan 2012, Trey asked me to write a short article on the changes.
Why ICAO Flight Plans?
If you are used to filing as an M20P/G, you are probably using the standard Domestic Flight Plan format (FAA Form 7233-1). This format hasn’t gone away, however, there are a few reasons you may want to consider using the ICAO format (FAA Form 7233-4):
- Flying internationally. If you ever plan to fly to Canada or the Bahamas, you are required to use the ICAO format to file an international flight plan regardless if you are VFR or IFR.
- Using RNAV (Area navigation) Routes. To be automatically assigned an RNAV SID (Standard Instrument Departure), STAR (Standard Terminal Arrival Route) or use RNAV Point-to-Point (Q-routes and T-routes), even domestically you are also required to use the ICAO format.
Why ICAO 2012?
The official reason from ICAO is “[…] to update the ICAO model flight plan form in order to meet the needs of aircraft with advanced capabilities and the evolving requirements of automated air traffic management (ATM) systems, while taking into account compatibility with existing systems, human factors, training, cost and transition aspects.” (PANS-ATM DOC 4444)
Although these changes increase the complexity of filing an ICAO flight plan, it has advantages in that pilots can better communicate to ATC their aircraft’s equipment and capabilities.
It may seem as though this is a big change, but the changes are, in fact, limited to just three fields: Communications/Navigation (field 10a), Surveillance Equipment (field 10b) and Other Information (field 18).
Starting with Communications and Navigation, there are a lot of additions (e.g. ACARS, CPDLC and SATCOM) that don’t apply to most MAPA members, but there are also some important changes. In the U.S., most of you will now file as SBGR. Here’s what the new (and old) codes mean:
- S – Standard Equipment: In the U.S., that’s VHF Radio, VOR and ILS.
- B – LPV (APV with SBAS): If you have a WAAS GPS like the Garmin 430W that lets you fly LPV approaches, you can file this.
- D – DME
- F – ADF
- G – GNSS (GPS): This option is now called GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) since both GPS and GLONASS meet the requirement.
- L – ILS
- O – VOR
- R – PBN: Previously called RNP Type Certification, this field is now called PBN (Performance Based Navigation). If you have any GPS certified for IFR operation, you have PBN capabilities that are defined in detail under Other Information.
- V – VHF Radio
- Y – 8.33 kHz VHF spacing
This section is fairly simple, the only gotchas are that you need to file the codes in the order listed here and the ICAO lets each country come up with their own definition for Standard Equipment so if you are unsure of what Standard equipment is in another country (NAV Canada appears to still include an ADF in their definition), I’d suggest explicitly filing your capabilities instead. In the example above, SBGR would become BGLORV.
For Surveillance, if you just have a Mode C transponder, you can stop reading now, all you need to file is /C. On the other hand, if you have a Mode S transponder or ADS-B, you now have a lot more options. The list of transponder types is:
- A – Mode A Transponder
- C – Mode C Transponder
- S – Mode S (with Aircraft ID and Altitude)
- P – Mode S (with Altitude, but not Aircraft ID)
- X – Mode S (without Aircraft ID or Altitude)
- E – Mode S (with Aircraft ID, Altitude and Extended Squitter)
- H – Mode S (with Aircraft ID, Altitude and Enhanced Surveillance)
- L – Mode S (with Aircraft ID, Altitude and both Extended Squitter and Enhanced Surveillance)
Following your transponder code, you can now also indicate your ADS-B capabilities:
- B1 – 1090 MHz ES (Extended Squitter) OUT
- B2 – 109 0MHz ES (Extended Squitter) OUT and IN
- U1 – 978 MHz UAT (Universal Access Transceiver) OUT
- U2 – 978 MHz UAT (Universal Access Transceiver) OUT and IN
For example if you have a Mode S transponder without EHS (Enhanced Surveillance), but both ADS-B IN and OUT for ES and UAT, you’d file: /EB2U2. You also need to specify your ICAO hex code under CODE in the Other Information field.
The final changes are under Other Information. ICAO lists a lot of new sub-fields; below are those (new and old) that may be relevant to MAPA members:
PBN/B2C2D2: The new PBN field lists the specific Performance Based Navigation capabilities of the aircraft. For most of you, all PBN capabilities are through GPS and would be RNAV 5 En Route (B2), RNAV 2 Terminal (C2), and RNAV 1 Approach (D2). RNP 10 and RNP 4 require a Letter of Authorization from the FAA while RNP 1 (O2) and RNP Approach (S1) just require a statement in the GPS’ Approved Flight Manual Supplement that the equipment meets the requirements of AC 90-105, however, most Garmin 430W installations do not have this statement. This field is limited to 8 characters.
NAV/RNVD1E2A2: This field hasn’t changed in Flight Plan 2012, but is still needed by the FAA so you can be assigned RNAV SIDs (D1), RNAV PTP (E2) and RNAV STARs (A1).
DEP/T82 GILLESPIE COUNTY: Used if your departure airport doesn’t have an ICAO identifier.
DEST/49R REAL COUNTY: Used if your destination airport doesn’t have an ICAO identifier.
REG/N12345: New field to be used if you are filing under a call sign.
CODE/A519D9: If you have ADS-B out capabilities, you need to file your ICAO hexadecimal (Mode S) identifier here.
PER/A: New field for the Performance Category (based on Vref or 1.3 Vso at max takeoff weight). A = 90kts IAS or less, B = 91 to 120kts IAS.
ALTN/5C1 BOERNE STAGE: Used if your alternate airport doesn’t have an ICAO identifier.
RMK/CALL SIGN FLIGHTAWARE: Used for other remarks.
Example Flight (Figure 1)
To better understand these changes, lets look at an imaginary IFR flight from Hobby airport in Houston, TX (KHOU) to Real County airport in Leakey, TX (49R). Since 49R has no instrument approaches, our alternate will be Kerrville, TX (KERV). The aircraft will be a “G” model cruising at 133 knots, equipped with a Garmin 430W, Garmin GTX 327 Transponder (Mode C) and an old King KX-155 radio. We’ll be operating the flight under a call sign as FlightAware (FWR) 123 and flying at 8000ft.
For those familiar with ICAO flight plans, feel free to skip to lines 10 and 18 to see the changes, but for those unfamiliar, I’ll walk through the form starting with box 7.
7) Aircraft Identification: FWR123
In this case, we’ll file as FWR123 and add REG/N12345 in the remarks field, but in most cases, you can just put the tail number here.
8a) Flight Rules: I
This is simple: I for IFR and V for VFR (you can also do Y for IFR then VFR and Z for VFR then IFR, but those are beyond the scope of this article).
8b) Type of Flight: G
This field will almost always be G for General Aviation and is, in fact, optional if the flight will be conducted entirely within domestic U.S. airspace.
9a) Number of Aircraft: 1
9b) Type of Aircraft: M20P
This is MITE for the M-18 Mite, M22 for the Mustang, M20T for the K, M, Encore, Bravo, 231, 252, TLS and M20P for everything else.
9c) Wake Turbulence Category: /L
All aircraft with a maximum takeoff weight of 15,500lbs or less are Light (L) according to the ICAO.
10a) Communications and Navigation Equipment: SBGR
Since the aircraft has the Standard (S) VHF Radio, VOR and ILS as defined by the FAA, we can start with that. Having a 430W allows us to fly LPV approaches, so we add B for LPV and G for GNSS (GPS). Although our PBN approval is for the GPS only, the FAA specifies that R should also be listed.
10b) Aircraft Surveillance Equipment: /C
Since the aircraft just has a Mode C transponder, this field should be familiar to everyone.
13a) Departure Aerodrome: KHOU
13b) Time: 1400
We’ll assume an 8AM CST departure (1400Z).
15a) Cruising Speed: N0133
This is in knots (N) followed by 4 digits.
15b) Level: F080
This is in hundred of feet (F) followed by 3 digits.
15c) Route: WAILN1 WAILN CSI DCT
For this flight, we’ll take advantage of being eligible to be assigned an RNAV SID and fly the WAILN ONE RNAV departure from Hobby.
16a) Destination Aerodrome: ZZZZ
Since Leakey, TX doesn’t have an ICAO identifier, we put “ZZZZ” under destination and then put 49R in remarks under “DEST/49R REAL COUNTY.”
16b) Total EET (Estimated En Route Time): 0145
16c) Alternate Aerodrome: KERV
18) Other Information: PBN/B2C2D2 NAV/RNVD1E2A1 DEST/49R REAL COUNTY REG/N12345 PER/A RMK/CALL SIGN FLIGHTAWARE
Our PBN capabilities are all through GPS and are the same as those defined above (B2C2D2). The NAV string “RNVD1E2A2” indicates the same information but ensures the FAA can assign us an RNAV SID. As mentioned earlier, the lack of an ICAO identifier for 49R requires filing DEST and since we filed under a call sign, we need to file the tail number under REG. For PER, since the Vref of this airplane is well under 91kts IAS, our performance category is A. Finally, if we have any additional remarks, we can put them under RMK.
19a) (Fuel) Endurance: 0530
19b) Persons on Board: 2
19c) Emergency Radio: ELT
We cross off the VHF and UHF since they are NOT available, but we don’t cross off ELT since we have one.
19d) Survival Equipment: None
We cross off everything here, since nothing is carried.
19e) Jackets: Lighted only
Since we do carry lighted life jackets for all passengers, we cross off Flourescin, VHF and UHF only.
19f) Dinghies: None
We cross of D and C here since no dinghies are carried.
19g) Aircraft Color and Markings: W/M/R
White, Maroon and Red.
19h) Safety Equipment Remarks: None
We can cross out N.
And that’s it; we can now file this flight plan with a FSS or an online service like DUAT, DUATS, FlightAware or Fltplan.com.
I know this is fairly complicated, so I’ll try to make it simple. If you are filing an ICAO Flight Plan in the U.S. and you have a non-turbo Mooney with an IFR GPS with WAAS like the 430W and a Mode C Transponder, here’s a two-line summary:
Aircraft Type and Equipment: M20P/L SBGR/C
Other Information: PBN/B2C2D2 NAV/RNVD1E2A1 PER/A RMK/ANY OTHER REMARKS…
It’s also worth noting that both FlightAware and Fltplan.com allow you to setup the profile for your aircraft once and then plan and file flights for free.
- FlightAware Flight Planner
- FAA’s Flight Plan 2012 Brochure
- NAV Canada’s Flight Plan 2012 Brochure
- Garmin’s ICAO 2012 Information