How To Plan a Cross-Country Flight for Business Aviation Operators
05 February 2024| By Just Aviation Team
Cross-country flying is an exciting and rewarding experience for any pilot, but it also requires careful planning and preparation. Whether you are flying for business or other purposes, you need to consider a number of factors, such as weather, route, aircraft performance, fuel, navigation, communication, and regulations. Useful tips and resources to help you plan a successful cross-country flight.
What is a Cross-Country Flight?
A cross-country flight is defined by the FAA as a flight that lands at a point more than 50 nautical miles from the original point of departure. For business aviation operators, a cross-country flight typically involves flying to a different state or country, or covering a long distance within a single region. A cross-country flight can have multiple purposes, such as meeting clients, attending conferences, transporting cargo, or exploring new destinations.
What are the Basics of Flight Planning?
Flight planning is the process of preparing for a flight, from gathering information and making decisions to executing and monitoring the flight. Flight planning is essential for safety, efficiency, and enjoyment of flying. Flight planning involves the following basic steps:
- Define your objectives and constraints
- Choose your aircraft and equipment
- Research your destination and alternate airports
- Plan your route and altitude
- Calculate your performance and weight and balance
- Obtain a weather briefing
- File a flight plan
- Prepare your cockpit and documents
- Conduct a pre-flight inspection and briefing
- Execute your flight plan and monitor your progress
- Arrive at your destination or alternate airport
- Close your flight plan and debrief your flight
Steps for Planning a Cross-Country Flight
Planning a cross-country flight involves several steps, from preflight to post-flight. Here is a general overview of the steps you should follow:
- Establish your goals and limitations. Before initiating your flight planning, ensure a clear understanding of the purpose of your flight, the destination, passengers, and any constraints. Factors such as budget, schedule, passenger preferences, aircraft capabilities, and personal/legal requirements should be considered.
- Select the appropriate aircraft and equipment. Align your choice of aircraft and equipment with your predefined goals and constraints for the cross-country flight. Factors such as speed, range, payload, comfort, reliability, and adherence to regulations should guide your selection.
- Research destination and alternate airports. Gather comprehensive information about your destination and potential alternate airports, including details on location, runway characteristics, services, fees, weather, airspace, and relevant procedures. Stay updated on NOTAMs, TFRs, or any restrictions affecting your flight using resources like charts, A/FDs, websites, and flight service stations.
- Plan your route and altitude. Determine the optimal route and altitude for your cross-country flight, considering factors such as terrain, weather, wind, navigation aids, airspace, and fuel consumption. Utilize tools like plotters, flight computers, EFBs, and flight planning software to facilitate the planning process.
- Calculate performance, weight, and balance. Utilize data from your POH or AFM and flight plan to calculate aircraft performance, weight, and balance for the cross-country flight. Account for variables like temperature, pressure, density altitude, wind, runway slope, and obstacles, ensuring compliance with weight and balance limits and sufficient fuel reserves.
- Obtain a comprehensive weather briefing. Prior to your cross-country flight, obtain a weather briefing from official sources such as FAA flight service stations or DUATS providers. Request a standard briefing covering adverse conditions, synopsis, current conditions, en route forecast, destination forecast, winds aloft, notices to airmen, and ATC delays. Continuously monitor and update your briefing as necessary.
- File a flight plan. Submit a flight plan to the relevant authority, whether FAA or ATC, before embarking on your cross-country flight. While not mandatory for VFR flights, filing a flight plan is strongly recommended for safety reasons. Include essential details such as aircraft identification, type, equipment, departure and destination airports, route, altitude, estimated time en route, fuel, and emergency contact information.
- Prepare your cockpit and documents. Organize and ensure accessibility to all necessary documents and equipment for your cross-country flight. This includes charts, navigation log, flight plan, weather briefing, NOTAMs, airport diagrams, checklists, manuals, licenses, certificates, navigation and communication systems, EFBs, backup devices, and emergency equipment.
- Conduct a thorough pre-flight inspection and briefing. Follow the procedures outlined in your POH or AFM and checklists to conduct a comprehensive pre-flight inspection and briefing. Examine the aircraft’s exterior, interior, and engine for defects, damage, or leaks. Brief yourself and passengers on the flight plan, weather, route, procedures, and emergency protocols.
- Execute your flight plan and monitor progress. Follow ATC instructions and VFR rules during your cross-country flight. Utilize navigation and communication systems, EFBs, and backup devices to navigate, communicate, and track your position. Monitor performance, fuel levels, weather conditions, and time at checkpoints and waypoints, making adjustments as needed.
- Safely arrive at your destination or alternate airport. Adhere to ATC instructions and airport procedures to safely approach and land at your destination or alternate airport. Use navigation and communication systems, EFBs, and checklists to guide you through landing, taxiing, parking, and securing the aircraft.
- Close your flight plan and debrief. Inform the relevant authority, such as the FAA or ATC, of your arrival by closing your flight plan. Conduct a debrief, reviewing your flight plan, performance, weather, route, and procedures to identify strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement.
Flight Permits for Cross-Country Flight Operations
Cross-country flight permits are permissions required by an aircraft to overfly, land or make a technical stop in any country’s airspace. The requirements for cross-country flight permits may vary depending on the country, the type of aircraft, the purpose of the flight, and the duration of the flight. However, some of the common documents that are needed for both landing permits and overflight permits are:
- Aircraft registration certificate (ARC)
- Airworthiness certificate (AWC)
- Certificate of insurance (COI)
- Pilot license and medical certificate (PLMC)
- Flight plan and route (FPR)
- Passenger and crew manifest (PCM)
- Customs and immigration clearance (CIC)
Some countries may also require additional documents, such as:
- Noise certificate (NC)
- Operator certificate (OC)
- Entry/circulation permits for flying within a country where required (ECP)
- Special flight permits for ferry flights or experimental flights (SFP)
- Diplomatic clearance for state or military flights (DC)
It is advisable to check the specific requirements and procedures for each country with your 3rd-party provider or the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) of the country before applying for cross-country flight permits. The lead time, fees, and validity of the permits may also differ depending on the country and the type of flight.
How do I choose the best route for cross-country flight from my location?
The best route for cross-country flight from your location depends on several factors, such as weather, terrain, airspace, navigation aids, fuel availability, and traffic. You should use tools such as charts, flight planning software, and weather services to compare different routes and select the one that meets your objectives and constraints. You should also consider the minimum safe altitude, the minimum en route altitude, and the minimum obstacle clearance altitude for each route segment.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of VFR and IFR cross-country flights?
VFR and IFR cross-country flights have different advantages and disadvantages, depending on the situation and the pilot’s preferences. Some of the advantages of VFR flights are: more flexibility, less paperwork, less communication, and more scenic views. Some of the disadvantages of VFR flights are: more weather limitations, more airspace restrictions, more reliance on pilotage and dead reckoning, and less ATC assistance. Some of the advantages of IFR flights are: more weather options, more direct routes, more navigation aids, and more ATC support. Some of the disadvantages of IFR flights are: more regulations, more procedures, more workload, and less visibility.
How do I use EFBs and other electronic devices for cross-country flight planning and execution?
EFBs and other electronic devices are useful tools for cross-country flight planning and execution, but they also have some limitations and risks. You should use EFBs and other electronic devices to supplement, not replace, your traditional flight planning and navigation methods. You should also ensure that your EFBs and other electronic devices are compatible, updated, charged, secured, and backed up. You should also be familiar with their functions, features, and limitations, and be prepared to switch to alternative sources of information in case of failure or malfunction.
Chart your cross-country flights effortlessly with Just Aviation. Our tailored planning solutions encompass every detail, ensuring a smooth and well-coordinated journey. Trust Just Aviation to provide the expertise needed to plan and execute successful cross-country flights, setting the standard for excellence in business aviation. Take off confidently and land with success, partnering with Just Aviation for your cross-country endeavors.