A Flight Plan In 10 Steps

Posted by at 10:28

‘I love it when a plan comes together!’  Even if you’ve never heard of the TV series “The A-Team”, you will undoubtedly have heard the famous sentence Colonel “Hannibal” Smith said at the end of every episode when, once again, the baddies had been caught thanks to his ingenious plan.

I wonder whether an episode would have ended so well if my childhood hero had had to compile a flight plan. A flight plan contains all the information needed to get an aircraft from A to B. And that is a lot of information! A “flight planner” is given the departure and arrival times and then has to work out the most efficient flight plan, taking a range of factors into account. Ten things they have to consider are:

1. Take-off and landing runways

It’s useful to start here! You need a point of departure and you want to go somewhere. Air traffic control ultimately decides the runway, but the flight planner can predict which it is likely to be based on wind direction. The runway with the (most) headwind will usually be used.

2. Route

Which route should you take between take-off and landing runways? You have to have permission from the relevant countries to fly through their airspace. If you do not have permission to fly through certain airspace, you have to adjust the route.

Flight plan Route

3. Altitudes

Different altitudes are possible during a flight. The lighter the aircraft, the higher you can fly. The higher you fly, the more fuel you save. Unless there is a stronger tailwind at lower altitudes, in which case it might be more efficient to fly low.

Flight Plan

Page 3 (out of the 20) of the flight plan from Amsterdam to New York.

4. The weather

The wind is a very important factor for take-off, landing and the altitudes you fly in between. It also affects the duration of the flight and (therefore) fuel consumption. But temperature also strongly influences the altitude, speed and weight of the aircraft. Learn more about the use of a flight plan in this video:

5. Weight

How heavy is an aircraft? And how heavy will it be with the expected number of passengers on board, plus crew, cargo, catering, water, fuel and so on? The total weight of an aircraft affects the speed you need to reach to be able to take off.

6. Speed

At what speed should you fly the aircraft? Lower speeds mean lower fuel consumption, but you also don’t want to risk arriving at the wrong time.

7. Fuel quantities

An aircraft becomes unnecessarily heavy if you carry more fuel than required. All the above factors affect how much fuel is needed for a flight. The type of aircraft and whether the air conditioning has to be switched on in the hold (e.g. when shipping fish, asparagus, or flowers) also affects fuel consumption.

Flight Plan

8. Alternative aerodromes

If, for some reason, it is not possible to land at the desired destination, “alternative aerodromes” have to be listed in the flight plan. You have to take into account that using one of these may mean longer flight times and therefore extra fuel consumption.

Departure KLM

9. Taxi times

Taxi times are increased by de-icing operations or using the runway furthest from the terminal.

10. Alternative routes

Many roads lead to Rome. Is the straightest line, as the crow flies, from A to B the best? We have seen that a route, wind, altitude, fuel consumption, temperature and speed are all inextricably linked. Other routes may have more favourable wind conditions, which make it possible to reach a destination on less fuel. Which combination of all these factors will create the most efficient flight plan?

Once a flight plan containing all this information has been drawn up, it can be passed on to air traffic control and the required quantity of fuel can be ordered. The pilots receive the entire flight plan on their iPad, so that they can optimally prepare and execute the flight. I love it when a flight plan comes together!

16 Responses to A Flight Plan In 10 Steps

  1. Mark

    Fascinating post. Thanks!



  3. Jacky

    Thanks for sharing. See you soon aboard the 747.

  4. Susan Julien

    Watching the video solved the mystery of the flight path. I love watching the flight on the monitor but at least now I know why the pilots fly in specific directions. Transatlantic path is very busy!


    very good information for Economic development


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  7. Ernst

    Kijken of ik er iets mee kan.

  8. Sander

    Ci 300 to minimise a delay. I hope it was a cost-balanced decision to spend that fuel on a projected 4-minute arrival delay.

    • Ben

      ETA= 19:22, which is 3 minutes ahead of schedule (= STA).
      Average departure delay is 9 minutes.. Making the ETA 6 minutes later than STA.
      The average enroute delay is 4 minutes. Final result (with CI 300): ETA= STA+10 minutes.

    • Rob

      I can imagine your doubt, but 4 Min of ArrDel can make the difference between 40 Pax getting their onward connection or not …..
      Resulting in re-booking, hotel costs, EU claims etc.
      In some cases, these non-performance costs are higher than the extra fuel costs, created by flying with higher CI

  9. Alan Boyle

    Very interesting, loved the video from the cockpit crossing the Atlantic.

  10. Theo de Wijs

    Heel interessant. Bedankt.

  11. Bernard van Dijk (lecturer airplane performance)

    Item 6 is not correct. It is not the lower speed the lower the fuel consumption. An aircraft has two kinds of drag: parasitic drag and induced drag. Parasitic drag is the normal drag which you also encouter when riding a bicycle. When you lower your speed the parasitic drag will reduce. But induced drag on the other hand will increase when your speed is reduced.. Induced drag is the drag which results from producing lift. You can somtimes see this kind of drag as it produces vortices at the tip of the wing. At high speeds parasitic drag has the upper hand, it is much higher than induced drag. When speed reduces the parasitic reduces but the induced drag increases. When speed is reduced sufficiently however, induced drag takes the upper hand, and further lowering your speed has no sense because the drag wil increase and so does the fuel consuption. The changeover occurs at the so called minimum drag speed, which is the speed you fly in a holding pattern. The optimum cruise speed is a little bit higher than this minimum drag speed.

  12. David Harris

    Hi Paul, this article brings back many memories of my aircraft dispatcher training in 1993. I never did have the opportunity to practice what I learnt in the classroom but I remember the six week program being tough and intensive. Thanks for sharing!

  13. Ad

    Beschouwt KLM de kosten per ton extra brandstof niet als concurrentiegevoelig?

  14. Hans

    Hey Paul,

    Al die afkortingen voor de Crew zeg…zijn die ook ergens terug te vinden maar dan explicated?
    Enfin, ga der maar aan staan:-)

    Dank voor het delen!

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