Flight planning for (virtual) airline pilots. After two months of learning I am ready to review Aerosoft’s Professional Flight Planner X. It’s good! Read my review to know how good and why you need it.
It is an amazing tool! But you need to remember that it is just a tool. It is up to you if you create great and realistic flight plans with it. If you are up to the job – I strongly recommend it. For me, PFPX changed the way I plan my flights. Actually it made me more interested in flying airliners as it positively transformed the entire experience. Try it – you will be delighted!
What did I gain with PFPX?
I like flight planning. For my flights I want to have a serious flight plan that I created, checked and accepted. On the other hand – virtual flying is just a hobby of mine – I do not have hours to plan every flight, I do not have time to collect NOTAMS and METARS from several sources. PFPX gives me assistance that I need. With Professional Flight Planner X I can enjoy a well prepared flight without sacrificing precious time for tedious tasks of collecting and copying data.
PFPX gives me freedom – it helps me in what I need, allowing me to take all the tasks that I want to perform myself.
In March 2015 when I wrote this review in Polish I said:
“Pro pilots who cross the Pond often and who know their 777 will surely find some mistakes in my flight plan. Some values that could be corrected or some errors that I made. I am sure of it. But I compare my knowledge now with what I knew two months ago, when I first started using PFPX and I see how much have I learned. I spend hours studying manuals, books and forums (pprune for example) looking for explanations. Some may say that this is a flaw of PFPX – it does not explain everything. I see a value in this – it’s impossible to explain all aspects of flight planning in software manual (it’s not the role of software manual!). I feel that PFPX helped me learn. That is the greates value of this software.
Now (December 2015) I can extend this. A year ago I rarely flew airliners. I never had time to properly plan a flight and I chose easier flights (easier mainly in terms of data collecting). PFPX changed this – since then I got PMDG 777, 737 and Jetstream and I can say that I enjoy them so much mostly thanks to PFPX that gives me the opportunity to plan my flights properly. When I translated this review today – I see several mistakes that I made in this flight plan – today I would plan such a flight a little differently. It is (again) the added value of PFPX – it makes me learn.
To make this review and description complete, I need to start with a short story of how I plan my flights. I am one of those “serious” virtual pilots who spend a lot of time planning my flights – I check current weather, forecasts, NOTAMS. I read route descriptions in AIPs and always try to prepare my flight plans as if they were real. That is one of the reasons I flew airliners… rarely. With large planes… I felt like I hit the wall. I was unable to spend enough time for flight planning and such unprepared flights did not make much sense for me.
Consider this. A simple flight from Sweden to Portugal. It passes over several countries – each has it’s AIP, some have rules different from the other. In real world – there is a team of airline professionals who support the pilot in flight planning. In FSX or P3D – I am on my own. To create the full flight plan and all necessary documents – it would take hours. Often it would take longer than the flight takes.
This is where PFPX comes handy. It replaces the team of dispatchers who work for an airline and provides me with data and documents necessary for the flight. I still need to be aware of how the flight plan is created – but I can supervise and direct instead of doing the hard labor. And whenever I feel that I can do something better – I can turn the automation off and make adjustments.
Aerosoft’s PFPX is a flight planning software for flight simulator (FSX, P3D, XPlane) users. Virtual pilots and virtual dispatchers use it to create a complete set of documents for an IFR flight. The final “product” looks exactly as the documents that a real pilot would get before a flight. Documents contain:
- operational flight plan
- ICAO flight plan (for ATC)
- fuel calculation
- en route wind data
- weather briefing
- enroute charts (with winds)
But it is not only about the documents. Precise planning process is behind the documents and I often use the following features:
- flight schedule management
- route planning suggestions (or auto-routing)
- alternate airport suggestions
- Eurocontrol’s CFMU flight plan validation
- fuel calculation (based on national or regional rules of pilot’s choice)
- “redispatch” planning
- real world routes database
- schedule import feature
PFPX is mainly targeted at IFR, commercial pilots. It’s designed for airliner crews and for business aviation pilots.
If you fly mostly VFRs or if you fly IFR in Cessna 172 or a similar plane – you will find PFPX helpful but I feel that after first few flights you will also find it too bothersome to use. It’s not a VFR flight planner like SkyDeamon or RocketRoute.
One limitation that you need to consider is the list of aircraft that PFPX has proper data for. You can check it here. There is also a possibility of downloading user-created profiles from Aerosoft Forum. If you do now want to check these links – I selected a few popular planes that are available:
- Airbus A318/19/20/21
- Airbus A330
- Airbus A340
- ATR 72
- BAe RJ 100
- Boeing 737 / 747 / 757 / 767 / 777 (several versions)
- Cessna Citation
- Embraer 170 / 175 / 190 / 195
- King Air 200
I have also downloaded profiles for:
- Avro RJ
- Beech Baron
- Beech Duke
- Beech Duke (turbine engines)
- C-130 (downloaded from CaptainSim forum)
- Cessna 172
- Cessna 182
- DHC-6 Twin Otter
I was also creating my own profile for F-16 but the project was put on ice as I do not fly F-16 so much lately.
How it works?
When you buy PFPX it comes with 365 days of server subscription. That will give you wind data, weather messages (METAR, TAF), NOTAMs and current oceanic tracks. After the first year you will have an option to renew your access to servers (at a price of 15,45 Euro / 12,56 without EU taxes). You can also use PFPX without server subscription but you will lose some features.
If you want to use current airways and procedures – you need to buy AIRAC database every 28 days. Both Navigraph and Aerosoft databases work with PFPX. If you consider PFPX you probably already buy AIRACs for your FMC – you can use the same navigation database for PFPX.
Appearance and basic options
There are 5 color profiles for PFPX. You can also adjust menus in this software.
Depending on your preference you can use imperial or metric units of measurements, set default flight rules depending on the country where you fly most often (Europe, US, Australia, Russia – you can always change the rules when planning a flight). PFPX also allows for passenger and baggage weight adjustments.
If you fly for a virtual airline that has no real counterpart you can add their virtual airline to PFPX database.
Once you have the basic configuration – you can create the database of your planes.
On the image above you can see my old database – it contains planes that I fly often: Avro RJ of SAS, Blue1 and Lufthansa, KLM’s Boeing 777, military C-130 Hercules and two general aviation planes (Cessna 172 and Beech Duke).
Take a look at the file for one of my planes – in this case – a 777.
Most of this information is already there but whenever I feel that something should be tweaked – I can adjust the values. It’s very useful when I am using aircraft that can be configured (for example in PMDG 737 I can use a single class or double class configuration).
The second tab of my 777’s data contains flight planning information – aircraft equipment (all the codes that go into field 18 of ICAO flight plan).
If you are not sure what this terms mean – PFPX manual gives a limited explanation. Unfortunately – its authors decided that if you need such an advanced tool – you should know how to use it so the manual is just a little disappointing.
ETOPS – extender operations of twin engine jets. If you intend to fly a twin over oceans – pay attention to this tab.
Please keep in mind that I created this flight plan for this review only – there may be a minor mistake or two.
The flight plan was created in March 2015 – when the review was originally written (for my Polish blog – CalypteAviation.com).
Ok. I have a plane. It’s time to fly somewhere.
This is how the flight planning looks if you start from scratch.
First steps are easy – airline – the last used comes up. Ok – KLM is fine. Flight number – this is the place where you put ICAO flight number (for ICAO flight plan). From, to – self explanatory (you can use both ICAO and IATA airport codes).
There is a search engine in case you can not remember the airport code – it is helpful but has a serious flaw – you can not search by city. Airport name is often as difficult to remember as its code. For example – looking for Amsterdam I need to type EHAM or AMS, or SCHIPHOL but I will find nothing if I type Amsterdam. For me – it kills the idea of this search engine – whenever I need to find an airport code I use google…
As soon as the departure and arrival airport are selected – the most probable runways for takeoff and landing are filled automatically. User can change it if he wishes.
When a section is filled correctly – a green light appears.
Some fields were filled automatically. Keep in mind that the type of flight will influence the weight (different passenger and baggage weights are set for various types of flight). Commercial flight number – it’s the IATA flight number (the one that you would see on arrival / departure board at the airport).
Aircraft section was filled automatically once I selected the plane (PFPX copied the data from aircraft database).
This is when the hard part begins. If you have a good knowledge of flight planning – you will understand all the fields like cost index, climb settings, etc. If you lack some knowledge – suggested values will help.
Further on. Payload – passengers, cargo, baggage (baggage will be entered automatically based on the number of passengers).
Fuel… Just enter additional fuel. Necessary fuel will be calculated based on the rules that you have chosen.
Route. In this case I selected a flight from Amsterdam to New York and PFPX found a route that I like and (more importantly) that passes CFMU validation. (PFPX routes usually pass validation, but there are exceptions so it’s good to validate the route every time it changes).
Unfortunately PFPX lacks complete list of possible DIRECTs over Europe. That extends the route somehow. I do not know if this is a PFPX limitation or it is caused by the lack of data in Navigraph database.
Back to my flight plan. I simply pressed “find” and PFPX gave me my route – a difference between this route and greate circle is 5% – acceptable.
The final section of this tab – alternate airports. PFPX gives me four – La Guardia (next to JFK), Republic Airport on Long Island, Teterboro Airport and Newark. Well… I would choose different airports. La Guardia and Newark were chosen correctly but to airports that serve business jets were not. PFPX predicts good alternate airports based only on the runway length so you can expect such situations.
I switched those airports to Boston and Washington.
PFPX planned routes to all alternate airports automatically (I can change these routes).
It’s time to fill “Advanced” tab. Starting from the top “Redispatch” option comes first. This option (mostly used in long range flights) allows for a smaller fuel reserve (less contingency fuel). Redispatch fix will be a decision point – if I have enough fuel – I will continue to my destination and if I do not have appropriate reserves for alternate airport – I will land at redispatch airport.
ETOPS. I am flying a 777 certified for 2 hour ETOPS (some 777 and airbuses A330 have better ETOPS capability). This means that I can not be more than 2 hours from an airport during my flight (2 hours at single engine speed). On this route it is quite easy to find appropriate en-route alternate airports. PFPX map helps by drawing 120 minute circles around main airports along the way.
As soon as Advanced lights turns green – the flight is ready. I can still add some additional settings – altitude and speed changes, predicted holdings, crew data and flight plan Remarks.
Finally I validate my route:
and I can click “Compute Flight”… to see a single warning for my flight. According to PFPX I have too much fuel in case I need to return to EHAM (one of my ETOPS airports). Actually – I put it among ETOPS alternates by mistake so I can just remove it and compute this flight with no warnings. You do not need to be alarmed – some warnings are correct (for example in some cases you will have too much fuel (and the plane will be too heavy) over ETOPS alternate and you will be unable to do anything with this problem at flight planning stage. In such case – keep in mind that you will need to dump some fuel before landing.
On some flights I have noticed erroneous warnings. For example – MORA warning on over ocean flights. It’s a bug.
I can check all flight documents directly in PFPX or download them in PDF.
The second page contains fuel planning data. If I was to really fly this route – I would add some fuel because back then I was flying Captain Sim 777 and I do not believe that its fuel consumption is 100% correct. Since then I flew extensively PMDG 777 and I find PFPX fuel predictions very precise.
The right column shows redispatch fix planning. The left column (please notice very low Contingency Fuel – only 478) shows how much fuel I need to have on board to continue to New York.
This page shows the main information about my flight. It is a summary of all data in this document – distances, airports, load, redispatch fix, fuel.
Engine failure planning – there is a scenario for each alternate which I included in my flight plan. It also specifies when each scenario should be used.
I have two flight plans. ATC Route is the route for the ATC (and for ICAO flight plan). I also have an operational flight plan where I will note my progress. I also have operational flight plans for all ETOPS scenarios and for all alternate airports.
Page 8 – en route winds.
Page 9. ICAO flight plan. This is a text version – dash separates flight plan fields.
I will skip next pages. They contain:
- weather briefing for all airports which I included in my flight plan (METAR and TAF);
- NOTAMs for all airports in my flight plan and all airspaces that I will cross;
- wind charts for cruising altitudes.
What I omitted
I chose a very personal format of this review. I do not want to copy anything from product description and I do not want to describe features that I rarely (or never) use. I have shown you how I use this software. Hopefully you will see in it what I saw. Or… you will decide that it is completely different from what you need.
But to be fair – I will mention some features that I omitted. PFPX allows you to login to some virtual airlines (if you are a member). There is also an “open” airline where everyone can log in. I looked at it and I found some flight plans created by other users. Never used it though.
I also never use VATSIM, IVAO or FSX AI browsers. For Vatsim I use Vatstinator software.
Weather browser seems a good idea… but I look for weather charts elsewhere. I also do not think there is any sense in Aerosoft Forum browser that is built in PFPX…
It is an amazing tool! But you need to remember that it is just a tool. It is up to you if you will create great and realistic flight plans with it. If you are up to the job – I strongly recommend it. For me PFPX changed the way I plan my flights. Actually it made me more interested in flying airliners as it positively transformed the entire experience. Try it – you will be delighted!
Strona wydawcy – Aerosoft: Professional Flight Planner X