Pilot's tip of the week

Long Term Flight Planning

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Subscriber question:

"When planning long cross-country trips, it seems like everything comes down to last minute preparation. Are there things I can do from a planning perspective a day or two ahead of time to make things go more smoothly?" - Don F.

Bob:

“Well, 36 to 48 hours in advance you can get a general idea of what kind of weather you’ll be facing enroute, whether you’re likely to face a low-pressure system, or a cold front crossing your route.

This is important to know because it might indicate whether the flight will be IFR, VFR or a combination of both. It will also give you an indication of whether you might be looking at low ceilings for your departure time, whether you’ll be perhaps addressing thunderstorms as you might expect in the summer prior to cold front passage.

There are a number of aviation-related sites which will allow you to look at prog charts, which will give you an idea of what will be happening on the particular day of your flight. You should be looking at the route that you’ll fly, and as you develop this route of flight, you then pinpoint the areas where you’re looking for weather.

Additionally, the route of flight leads you into the issue of fuel stops along the route. Planning for your fuel stops leads you into an analysis of your load and your endurance in the aircraft. And that, in turn, leads into an analysis of aircraft capabilities.

So there are a number of issues that we can take a look at in advance of the flight. We’re developing a potentially desirable route based on the weather information that we can glean 36 to 48 hours in advance. We’re thinking of potential fuel stops which, of course, requires that if we’re IFR we check into the availability of approaches at these airports. And that doesn’t mean just looking at the approach plates to see what kinds of approaches are available at the airport. It requires that you look at the NOTAMs which are used for planning purposes to determine whether any of those approaches are out of service for any particular reason.”

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