Did you know? Opening your flight plan

Opening a flight plan should be the easiest part of your cross-country. Tune in the nearest Flight Service Station on your radio, call ‘em up, request that the plan be opened, give your departure time, and on you go.

Except it isn’t, sometimes. You forget to call up flight service. Or you call them up and nobody’s home because you copied down the wrong frequency. Or you call them up and they hear you, but for some mysterious reason the flight plan you filed is not actually on file, so you have to give them all the details while trying to keep the airplane upright.

Last week, pending a VFR flight from Maryland to Tennessee, I called Lockheed Martin to get a standard weather briefing. (I don’t usually file by computer.) After the briefer and I had gone over all the weather and notams, he offered to have the flight plan opened at the specified time without my having to contact flight service. I was pleasantly surprised–I hadn’t known this option was available. And it worked! How do I know? Because I was a few minutes late closing the flight plan, and flight service called me to check up on my whereabouts.

When I called for a briefing on the return trip, no such offer was made. So if you want to take advantage of this service, you might have to ask. And make sure you make a realistic prediction of when you’ll be wheels up–because when you say you’re in the air, the clock is ticking.–Jill W. Tallman

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2 Responses to “Did you know? Opening your flight plan”

  1. I miss the days when you could walk into the FSS and talk to the briefers “live.” The weather charts would be spread out on the walls and under the glass topped counter. We have lost of lot of local information and weather nuance by herding new pilots to the internet.

  2. Jeff says:

    I learned about the assumed departure feature of a VFR flight plan some time back and use it almost every time. I call on my cell when I am in the airplane and ready to crank up. Basically, I moved open-the-flightplan from the climb section of my checklist to the crank section. Waiting until ready to crank means you will be airborne in about 5-10 minutes, so you can give them an accurate open time. Just remember that they will come looking for you if you don’t close, so be sure you are ready to depart. If something goes wrong and you don’t take off or if you have to abort/divert, be absolutely sure to let them know. I had a mag fail during my run-up and called to cancel as soon as I taxied back to the FBO.

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