Flight plan form – seems uncomplicated, but even experienced users make mistakes when filling it in. How to file a flight plan for Vatsim flight? And what regional differences pilot may encounter?
- Where to file a flight plan (why VFPS is better than Vatsim client)
- The most important lesson – enter your actual intentions
- Flight plan form
- Regional differences and nuances
- Comments and last suggestions
- Recommended reading
Introduction – why I write this tutorial?
I was inspired by my observations of flight plans filed by Vatsim pilots and by several discussions on simulation related forums. There is even a thread where strange flight plans are
ridiculed shown as examples of how not to fill the form. The problem is – it is very easy to point mistakes but much harder to steer someone towards a reliable guide. I myself had serious doubts about how to fill several fields of the form and the internet… was not much of a help. Tutorials I found contradicted themselves and some of them were plain wrong.
This text sums up my personal notes. I tried to organize my knowledge and I think it may be good to share it. Should you have any suggestions or experiences worth sharing – email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) – I am happy to extend this article and improve the contents of this tutorial.
This article would not have its shape without the help of Vatsim ATC staff from Argentina, Canada, Estonia, Germany, India, Korea, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Russia and United States. Controllers shared their views and experiences with me, pointing to regional differences and showing how it looks from the other side. I would like to thank them for their time and effort.
I based some of my suggestions on controllers answers but I am the only person to blame for any mistakes that may appear in this text.
Where should you file your flight plan? (VFPS)
The flight plan can be filed through Vatsim client software (FS Inn, vPilot, Squawk Box). It may be convenient but I recommend you use VFPS website instead. There are several reasons to do so.
First and foremost – VFPS saves flight plans directly on Vatsim servers and confirms that the plan was saved. My experience with FS Inn is quite different – pressing “Send to Tower” may not work and there is no confirmation or feedback on whether the flight plan has been saved or not.
The second good reason to use VFPS – it forces you to fill in all necessary fields. That means you will never forget to enter important information. For example – I browsed through flight plans of pilots who fly on Vatsim at this very moment and I noticed that a third of those who used Vatsim client software did not state their communication capabilities (voice or text). All those who used VFPS did (they had no choice – form forced them to select on of three options).
Although it is based on VFPS form – this tutorial is also relevant for all pilots who send their flight plans using FS Inn, vPilot or Squawk Box. In case you use FS Inn – you can always check whether the plan was saved by pressing “Request from Tower”.
vPilot (Vatsim client) has the same advantages as VFPS website – it also confirms that the plan has been saved and forces the pilot to enter all the necessary information.
Enter your actual intentions!
It may sound obvious but it’s not – you should enter your actual intentions. Do not enter a route you can not fly or equipment that you do not have. Do not enter procedures that you can not follow (because you have no equipment or skills). Your flight plan should not be a just a copy of a real world flight plan or something that your flight planning software (vroute, PFPX, SimBrief) gave you and what you have copied without a single thought.
Flight plan form
A bit of theory – Vatsim flight plan form is (generally) based on the old FAA flight plan form (it is also known as FAA’s domestic flight plan form but even in U.S. the ICAO form becomes more and more popular and is mandatory on all international flights).
There are a few differences between FAA and ICAO form – I will mention the most important (from our point of view). I will also mention some differences that result from Vatsim reality.
1. TYPE (flight rules)
On Vatsim you can choose between VFR and IFR. Select the rules that are applicable for your flight.
There is a difference between Vatsim form (“old FAA”) and ICAO flight plan where you can indicate an intended flight rules change (VFR first then IFR or IFR first then VFR). In case of Vatsim flight plan – enter the first rules you will use and the indicate the change of the rules in “Route of flight” field.
A callsign of the aircraft. The callsign should look like this:
- registration of aircraft: SPABC, GABCD, N12345,
- ICAO code of an airline followed by flight number: BAW123, DLH456Q, DAL789 (British Airways, Lufthansa, Delta),
- ICAO code of an airline followed by registration of aircraft (4 characters of the registration), e.g. BAWABCD, DLHEFGH (British Airways and Lufthansa).
- Military, police or HEMS callsign: SABER1, SWORD12, RATOWNIK4*.
* – RATOWNIK4 (ratownik – Polish for lifesaver, a callsign used by Polish HEMS) or HERCULES15 in real world should be abbreviated when filled in the flight plan form (this field is limited to 7 characters). On Vatsim it is common to use the longer version to avoid pronunciation issues (unobvious callsigns should be explained in Remarks field).
In real world longer callsigns are abbreviated in the flight plan form – look at the example of F-16 operating in Greece. Its callsign in the flight plan form was STARW, and it was explained in Other Information field: VOICE CALL SIGN ‘STAR WHITE’.
A correct callsign consists of alphanumeric characters only (letters and digits). Dash is not a part of a correct callsign. G-ABCD (instead of GABCD) is the most common mistake. Fortunately it has no consequence on Vatsim and some controllers said that it does not make a difference for them. For some dash indicates a newbie pilot. In real world dash is used as a field delimiter in computer processing of the flight plan so using it would make the flight plan unreadable.
Some pilots use IATA codes for airlines instead of ICAO codes. It is a mistake.
I will mention it again later but you need to consider that some people may not know your airline based on its code. To be sure you should state your radio telephony callsign in Remarks field. Codes like BAW for Speedbird (British Airways), DLH for Lufthansa or DAL for Delta are widely known. But there are codes like HLN for… Orange. Do not expect the controller to know this. In such case – make sure that your full callsign is visible in Remarks field. Also – expect to be called as Hotel Lima November instead of Orange.
Where can you find real world registrations, airline codes and callsigns?
Aircraft registration format list in Wikipedia:
Airline codes list in Wikipedia:
Military callsign list:
3. AIRCRAFT TYPE / SPECIAL EQUIPMENT
This field is built of prefix, aircraft code and sufix (e.g. H/B77L/L). Keep in mind that this is a modified FAA format. ICAO equipment codes look different.
Aircraft code. This is the most important part! Aircraft code is obligatory. Use ICAO type code. Examples:
- Boeing 737-800 – B738
- Airbus A320 – A320
- Boeing 777-200LR and Boeing 777F – B77L
- Cessna 172 – C172
- Piper Comanche – PA24
If you do not know your aircraft code – look for it in Wikipedia or use ICAO search engine:
Prefix gives information about:
- the number of aircraft, when greater than 1 (formation flights): 2/F15/P (a pair of F-15s),
- wake turbulence category, e.g. H/B77L/L (H – heavy),
- TCAS, e.g. T/B738/L (T means that this 737-800 is equipped with TCAS) (no longer user)
Confusing? Let’s discuss what is important here. The most important information is the number of planes if they are flying in formation. If you are flying alone – Heavy indication may be important to ATC (if you are a Heavy).
Vatsim manual mentions T for TCAS equipped aircraft (independently of the wake turbulence category). H means “heavy and equipped with TCAS”. Among more than 20 controllers that I talked to only one said that T/ is important. H/ is much more helpful, especially if you are flying an aircraft that is not widely known. Make sure to use it always when flying Boeing 747 LCF Dreamlifter – its ICAO code (BLCF) may not be known to the controller.
T/ prefix is no longer used.
Sufix gives information about navigational equipment. GPS, TACAN, RNAV equipment, RVSM capability… ATCs who I interviewed were divided “regionally” between those who consider sufix important and those who do not.
- USA, Canada (or widely speaking) – both Americas – equipment codes are important and useful
- Europe and Asia – most controllers do not look for this codes
American (I mean both Americas, not only U.S.) ATCs said that properly entered equipment code allows them to assign proper procedures.
European and Asian ATCs gave various answers but in majority they said that equipment codes do not give them any valuable information.
This difference may be a result of wide use of RNAV routes and procedures over Europe. In fact it is difficult or impossible to fly an airliner without RNAV equipment (FMC or vasFMC) over Europe. On the other hand – United States still use “radionav” routes (Victor, Jet, and colored routes in Alaska) so American ATCs probably often encounter “non-rnav” traffic (like an old 737-200 without FMC).
Most common sufixes:
- /L – full RNAV capability (airliner with FMC)
- /W – NON-RNAV (airliner without FMC)
- /A – DME (and all other radio-nav equipment – similar to /W, but used in general aviation planes with no RVSM capability)
- /G – GPS (and no RVSM capability, general aviation with GPS)
- /P – military planes with radio-nav equipment (VOR, DME, etc).
Several ATCs suggested this sufox list:
Because of Vatsim specifics – you should use codes for “Transponder with Mode C” option (Vatsim requires you to use transponder).
4. TRUE AIRSPEED (KTS)
The first cruising speed of your plan.
True airspeed (not an indicated airspeed). If you do not know the difference between true and indicated airspeed – read my article about airspeed and airspeed indicator.
Format – just the number in knots (e.g. 474).
5. DEPARTURE POINT
ICAO code (4 characters) of departure airport. Use FAA three character code when flying to an airport that does not have an ICAO code (in U.S.). If ICAO or FAA code is not available – use ZZZZ (and enter the airport name in Remarks).
Examples: New York JFK – KJFK, San Francisco – KSFO, Warm Spring Bay – BNF (FAA code).
6. DEPARTURE TIME PROPOSED (Z)
Departure time (ZULU) use UTC (Greenwich time).
Enter an estimated departure time. Keep in mind that this information is generally not processed by the ATC. Departures schedule depends on a traffic flow and the time of your clearance request.
In some situations (Vatsim events with time slots) this information may be important.
7. CRUISING ALTITUDE
Cruising altitude in feet or a flight level (if above transition altitude).
ICAO layout: A045 (altitude in hundreds of feet – 4500), F380 (flight level 380).
FAA layout: 12000 – altitude in feet or a flight level.
8. ROUTE OF FLIGHT
Once again – enter what you plan and what you are capable of, do not copy-paste something that you found on the web.
Enter the route following ICAO flight plan rules using:
- significant points (FIXes), e.g.: KOTEK, HADDY, WORRI,
- navaid identifiers, e.g.: AKN, AUB, KMI (VOR and NDB identifiers),
- geographical coordinates using degrees (46N078W) or degrees and minutes (4630N07830W),
- bearing and distance from navaid, e.g. AKN080040 (80 degrees, 40 nautical miles from AKN VOR).
Flying along airways
If you are flying along published airways – use point airway point format, e.g. AKN V427 RINGO. In this example AKN is the point (navaid) where you enter the V427 airway, and RINGO is the point where you exit this airway. Intermediate waypoints are not entered.
A longer route would look like this:
IRLUN N133 NEGUV M66 KUKAM
IRLUN is the first waypoint of this route, N133 airway connects IRLUN with NEGUV, and later M66 connects NEGUV with KUKAM.
Remember that in some FIRs (over some countries) high altitude IFR flights have to follow airways.
DCT – Direct
When flying directly between waypoints you should write DCT (direct) between such waypoints. But there are exceptions from this rule – you do not write DCT between two waypoints that are entered using coordinates or a bearing and distance from navaid. Look at this two examples:
ZOL DCT BADAB DCT ROPNO (DCT is used between FIXes and between a FIX and a navaid)
46N078W 46N079W AKN080040 (DCT is not used)
Some ATCs pointed to me that you do not use DCT in some FIRs. For example over USA you enter waypoints separated with space. I did not find the real world rules that describe this practice.
As I said earlier – direct flights between waypoints may not be allowed in some FIRs and in others they may be restricted (direct distance may be limited, available altitudes may be set or a specific equipment may be necessary). For example you can fly direct for hundreds of miles over Norway, but you can not plan a direct flight over Poland (above FL95, with the exception of several DCTs mentioned in RAD document of Eurocontrol).
For local DCT limits and available DCTs check Eurocontrol website (click on current AIRAC »Appendix 4: Enroute DCTs / General Limits).
Vatsim flight plans for VFR flights often include town names as waypoints. It is not correct (according to real world rules), but is used. Keep in mind that the ATC will not see your route correctly on his display if you enter town names.
When filing VFR flight plan make sure that you give precise route in controlled airspace. In uncontrolled airspace your route would help during search and rescue operation in the real world. On Vatsim it describes your intentions to other pilots and controllers around you.
Vatsim ATC software may not draw correctly the route based on navaid bearing and distance waypoints.
After a tests that one ATC did (thank you!) I can suggest this format as the best:
5146N02110E (WARKA) 5130N02043E (POTWOROW) 5122N02016E (OPOCZNO)
In this case Euroscope (ATC software) will display the route that follows geographical coordinates and town names can be use to simplify communication.
SID and STAR procedures in ROUTE?
SID and STAR (departure and arrival procedures) are assigned by the ATC and should not be included in your flight plan ROUTE. Just enter the first waypoint of your intended route (often the last waypoint of SID and the first waypoint of STAR).
In some countries like U.S., Canada and Germany SID and STAR procedures should be included in your ROUTE. You should select the correct procedure based on runway in use (check winds or look at flightradar24) and your equipment (RNAV SID/STAR or non-rnav SID/STAR). Once again – select the procedure that you are able to fly. Keep in mind that ATC may assign a different procedure!
One more thing you should consider – ATC software (Euroscope) may draw your route incorrectly if you enter the SID or STAR in ROUTE field. This is additional reason to avoid doing this in places where you are not supposed to.
Airspeed and altitude changes
You can (in controlled airspace – you should) inform about your intended altitude and speed changes. Use POINT/N0340F230 layout for such change. It means that you will fly 340 knots (true airspeed) at flight level 230 after you pass waypoint POINT. In case you want to only change speed or only change altitude – you still need to enter both parameters.
Flight rules change (VFR / IFR)
Indicate flight rules change with VFR or IFR after the point where the change will happen. For example …AKN VFR… means that you will fly VFR after AKN navaid.
ICAO code (4 characters) of departure airport. In U.S., when ICAO code is not available – use FAA three character code. If ICAO or FAA code is not available – use ZZZZ (and enter the airport name in Remarks).
Examples: New York JFK – KJFK, San Francisco – KSFO, Warm Spring Bay – BNF (FAA code).
10. EST TIME ENROUTE HOURS / MINUTES
Estimated time of flight in hours and minutes.
In real world they would start searching for you if you have not closed your flight plan some time after this time passed. On Vatsim it is less significant.
11a. VOICE CAPABILITIES
State how you can communicate with the ATC. Controllers often said that they lost a lot of time voice-calling someone who can communicate using text only. Select one of three options. If you are using FS Inn to file the flight plan – enter one of the following codes in Remarks section:
- /t/ – Text Only
- /r/ – Receive Only – you can receive voice communication but you will respond via text
- /v/ – Full Voice
11. REMARKS (optional)
The field that gives you an opportunity to express yourself. Often misused or used for “eye-candy” information instead of something important. So… what is important?
Callsign – your callsign if it is not obvious. Like the HLN123A I mentioned earlier (Orange 123A). Enter your radio-telephony callsign in Remarks. Preferably in front of other information. There is no mandatory format for this information. You can just type CALL ORANGE or CALLSIGN ORANGE. Someone suggested RT/ORANGE.
Navigation capabilities (if not standard) – especially in regions where ATC do not look at your equipment codes typing “NON-RNAV” in Remarks field may help.
AIRAC, if not standard – when you use outdated AIRAC (e.g. the previous cycle) – mention it in remarks.
Training flight, ILS approach training, etc – it will inform the ATC that you have non-standard intentions.
Charts on board – entry that arouses mixed feelings. For some – it is important (and assures that you have charts on board). For others – not necessary as it is obvious that you should have the charts…
PBN/A1B1C1D1L1O1S1 NAV/RNVD1E2A1 REG/VQ-BTS… – ICAO flight plan Point 18 entries. At least two of interviewed ATCs called them “eye-candy”. Only a single (among more than 20) told me that he actually reads and interprets this codes. The common practice is to copy and paste this codes from PFPX or similar source. It does no harm but it does not help neither.
12. FUEL ON BOARD HOURS MINUTES
Fuel calculated in hours and minutes.
In real world they would use this information during search and rescue operation. On Vatsim it is less significant.
13. ALTERNATE AIRPORT (optional)
Alternate airport. Actually not so “optional” as the description might suggest. In most flight plans filed on Vatsim it should be selected correctly. Correctly being the key word here – enter the code of an airport you actually can fly to and are equipped to fly to. ATCs who I interviewed said that often a random airport is entered here – this is wrong.
14. PILOT’S NAME & AIRCRAFT HOME BASE
Sign the form.
15. VATSIM ID
Self explanatory, isn’t it?
16. VATSIM PASSWORD
Vatsim password – necessary to save the flight plan under your name.
Regional differences and nuances
I described some regional differences earlier. I also cited opinions of several controllers. In interviews that I did controllers usually answered similarly. But there were exceptions that I would like to mention some of them here.
Several controllers said that they actually prefer if pilots use dash in their registration-callsign (G-ABCD instead the correct GABCD). They were aware that this is wrong, but for them it is more readable. One of interviewed controllers said that it is easier to read a group of 4 characters than a group of 5.
One of the controllers mentioned an equipment code that was removed years ago. It took me 5 minutes to find the code that was mentioned – it was published on Vatsim related website. You should be aware of the possibility that someone uses outdated sources or interprets data differently than you.
I write about such differences because I wish to make you aware that Vatsim network consists of people of different background and different training. That is why you should familiarize yourself with local rules.
Also – you should keep in mind that there are some good exceptions from the real world rules. The most important thing about the flight plan is that this is a message from you to the ATC. Keep it relevant. Do not copy and paste something that looks good (A1B1C1D1L1O1S1). Instead – think about what is important. Being “as real as it gets” means providing ATC with useful information. That is what the real pilot does when filing a flight plan.
Comments and last suggestions
This is a tutorial. It is not a comprehensive manual on how to fill in the flight plan. I am aware that there are some topics that I did not describe in depth. Whenever I shortened my explanations – I did it to keep my guide shorter and easier for pilots who will use it. I tired to avoid topics that would be interesting to few.
If you feel that something important is missing – please feel free to suggest any improvements.
For more information – look into real world manuals!
I recommend this two documents: