Filing a flight plan serves a variety of purposes. Air traffic control (ATC) uses flight plans under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) to initiate tracking and routing services. Comparatively, when a flight plan is used under Visual Flight Rules (VFR), it solely serves to provide critical information should search and rescue operations be needed. VFR operators can always request flight following without having filed a flight plan. So, there are several options available depending upon what best meets the circumstances.
Filing a Flight Plan: International vs. Domestic
The Federal Aviation Association (FAA) recommends pilots filing an international plan use International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in domestic airspace. International flight plan filing has specific criteria, and an international flight plan is required when the flight will enter international airspace. This includes FAA controlled oceanic airspace. Another criteria demanding an ICAO flight plan occurs whenever a flight anticipates routing or separation based on Performance Based Navigation (PBN). The same is true when a flight enters RVSM airspace or expects ADS-B services. Information on how to file an international flight plan correctly can be located in the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) Section 1. There are several distinctions in guidance that must be reviewed including aircraft type designators, performance based navigation, updated flight filing quick reference brochure, domestic filers, filing ADS-B, filing NAV/Data and filing PBN/Data. If the flight does not fall into any of these categories an FAA domestic format flight plan can be filed instead.
It is imperative that operators familiarize themselves with the regulations and guidance surrounding flight plan filing. Ensuring a sound, well thought out flight plan is recorded and filed properly when required should be a priority for all pilots.