Flight planning guide
How can a flight be secured to a challenging airport?
Flight preparations to an operationally challenging airport are always complex. Whether the airport’s oddity rests in its location, runway characteristics, presence of surrounding obstacles or in the complicated landing permit – it is always beneficial to spend more time on preparation and not to underestimate it.
At ABS Jets, we are often faced with client requests to less frequented or exotic destinations. Behind the scenes of several hours (sometimes even several days) of work, there seems to be an innocent looking question such as: “We would like to travel to so-and-so; how can it be accomplished?” This query launches a process of searching, writing, calling and resolving. In the first place, the dispatcher must acquire general knowledge about the planned destination, i.e. where it is located, whether the given area is safe, what the conditions of entering the country are, etc. At the same time, he or she collects information about the airport – what the airport looks like and what services it offers, whether it is managed, provides weather reports, supplies fuel, whether it provides customs clearance, etc. Airports may require specific simulator or theory training; sometimes even familiarising oneself with the airport in person. After finding out all the details, communication with the flying crew must not be neglected, with whom there are often other limitations identified.
Flying to a demanding airport is a challenge for pilots as well as for the dispatchers at our OCC. Our endeavour is to resolve the matters of every trip so that the crew can focus solely on executing the flight. In Europe, we are faced with planning flights to airports such as Funchal on Madeira or Gibraltar. Despite the relatively large number of flights, it is important to pay close attention here as well. An “experience” for all those involved is the planning of long-distance trips to destinations such as Cuzco in Peru, Lukla in Nepal or Galapagos in Ecuador.
How to work with an unusual type of aircraft?
Although most aircraft that the OCC comes into contact with fall into the category of modern and extended models, there are cases of requests asking for the support of less-common aircraft. These can include old aircraft, where only a few models were produced, as well as prototypes. The difficulty usually is a lack of information about performance characteristics or missing equipment and certifications. In the case of small planes, a large consideration is also the flight range of the aircraft itself. Our planning software includes the profiles of common types of aircraft used worldwide. However, there are situations when it is necessary to work with aircraft that is not listed in the database. If the aircraft’s performance documentation is provided by the manufacturer, it is then up to our specialists at the OCC to create the plane’s calculation profile. If the available documentation is not sufficient (e.g. interpreting data from graphs or in uncommon units), the dispatcher must negotiate the expected values with a crew that knows the aircraft very well.
This is what happened in the case of the flyover of the historic Lockheed Electra 10-A aircraft from the USA to the Czech Republic; a flyover, in which our team had the honour of participating. Manuals and data to an aircraft of this type look quite different from the ones commonly seen today. They are typewritten, clearly in a simpler fashion, graphs are not and cannot be accurate. Nevertheless, this challenge did not stop our team of professionals. The curves were read as accurately as possible and, together with the pilots, we prepared the profile in a way that matched the truth as closely as possible. Afterward, there was nothing else that stood in the way of planning the historical flyover over the Atlantic Ocean. The fact that it was an aircraft that was never seen on the used airports was more of an advantage. Most service providers were very willing and accommodating because it was a unique aviation experience for them as well.
How to successfully manage the preparation of the delivery flight?
After the construction and sale of an aircraft comes the delivery flight to the customer. Since the aircraft is a brand new piece of equipment, it is necessary to deal with some operations in order for the flyover to be seamless. New aircraft do not always have to supply all the required certificates or they may have operating restrictions, for example a missing permit for RVSM. Sometimes, delivery flights are very short, e.g. within one country or a continent. Other times, it is an event lasting several days with many technical stopovers. This is the domain of mainly smaller aircraft. Whether it is one flight of the new G650 from the USA to China, or several flights of a small Phenom 100 on the way from Brazil via the USA, Canada, Greenland, and Iceland all the way to its new owner in Europe, the support of an experienced team during these flights is priceless. The operator seldom has experience with distant regions and must have a large amount of administrative matters secured starting with the first flight. The work of our OCC, in addition to the planning itself, is mainly to communicate with aviation authorities and local air traffic control representatives in order to negotiate the necessary exceptions. The flight must take place, but at the same time, it must not interfere with regular traffic operations.
Over the several years of ABS Jets’ existence, we have had the opportunity to prepare and supply dozens of aircraft both to our fleet and to other operators. A memorable delivery flight for us was welcoming a new family member – the 100th manufactured Embraer Legacy 600. We often cooperate directly with the aircraft manufacturer. In addition to the Brazilian producer Embraer, this also includes our cooperative relationship with the Czech producer – LET Aircraft Industries, which deals with the production of the legendary L410 Turbolet aircraft. These aircraft are special for their unique capabilities of landing in extreme conditions. Proof of this, aside from other things, is several delivery flights to one of the most dangerous airports in the world – Lukla in Nepal.
Difficulties and specifics of diplomatic flights
Another specific group of flights, which the OCC can encounter, are flights for diplomatic purposes. These are transports of government officials for state visits, meetings or conferences. Flight preparation in these cases includes many unique characteristics. There is a high concentration of high-ranking people on board. Whether the flight is operated by a civilian or military carrier, it is necessary to think about diplomatic flyover permits. Unlike standard permits, these are applied for at the embassies of individual countries. This process can take a long time. Some countries allow for flexible planning, but, in the vast majority of cases, it is necessary to adhere to a predetermined route and points of entry / departure. Therefore, there is not much room for operational changes, e.g. in the case of inclement weather or strong winds. Strong emphasis is also placed on the airports. In addition to technical amenities, the availability of security and VIP services is also required.
One of our clients includes the presidential aircraft based in Central America. One of the aircraft’s trips was a visit to Japan and East Asia. Since the trip had to incorporate several stopovers due to the aircraft’s shorter flight range, the delegation selected a more reasonable option – to take the presidential aircraft to Los Angeles and then to continue on with a direct flight. Nevertheless, they still wanted to have their plane available in Japan.
The task, therefore, was to transport the empty aircraft to Tokyo. In the majority of similar flights, we plan a default stopover in Anchorage (PANC). Because of the extremely strong winds, this option would add one additional technical stopover. The second option was the airport in Cold Bay (PACD). This was a completely unknown location for the crew, and that is why they were inclined to be sceptical about this option at the start. Thanks to previous contact with the CBP headquarters in Anchorage, our team was able to arrange for remote customs clearance. In the end, the crew was convinced by our dispatcher. Nothing stood in the way of the flyover. Contrary to expectations, the aircraft stayed in Cold Bay over night as well and the feedback was very positive. Since that time, Cold Bay has been the place where this aircraft has landed on several occasions. Our team confirmed that it is able to recommend an unexpected solution to our clients’ problem.
Arranging and coordinating demo flights
A small, yet very important sector of flights is manufacturer demo flights. These take place either directly upon the request of a new potential client or during air shows and exhibitions. Their operating specialty is that they very often start and finish at the same airport. It is the aspiration of the manufacturer to give an exceptional account of the aircraft and its aviation characteristics. It is desirable that the overall negative impact from the possible organisational complications would be as small as possible on the aircraft’s potential buyer. The coordination of such flights is not always easy for the OCC. Some airports do not even allow these operations because of their high traffic volume; others have specific conditions for their execution. For example, it is not entirely easy to plan a demo flight at one of London’s airports due to the extreme traffic burden in the area.
A great deal of information can be found in the Aeronautical Information Publication; nevertheless, it is advisable in any case to consult the given flight or series of flights with the airport. The airport is able to help with finding the right time with respect to traffic and, at the same time, it can facilitate work when establishing the flight route. Our team of dispatchers has a great deal of experience with these traffic conditions from Europe and the USA, but especially from East Asia and India. It is here that we coordinated flights including permits, used flight levels, and other requirements to unusual and less-frequented airports. Often, it was the case of a military exhibition event. We draw on these contacts and experiences to this day.
Arranging and coordinating technical test flight
An aircraft test flight after repairs, installation of new systems or a more complex review is a frequent prerequisite for attaining airworthiness. It is not always easy to plan and coordinate such a flight with local air traffic control. If the test flight is to take place at a frequented airport, prior coordination is absolutely necessary. The planned course of the test flight, including expected manoeuvres, have to be considered. Determining a suitable time with respect to traffic peaks is also important. The advantage, of course, is to know about the upcoming test flight early enough and gradually prepare all the services. Also, the more information the dispatcher obtains regarding the flight test, the better he or she is able to coordinate the technical test flight. On the other hand, there are cases, where the request to carry out a technical test flights comes very quickly. The dispatcher and crew discuss the intended actions, appropriate routes (appropriate airspace), flight level, amount of fuel needed and a series of other details. Furthermore, the dispatcher coordinates everything either with the help of the supplied flight plan or even by telephone with the air traffic control centre. Technical test flights are very common for us. We provide test flight support not only for our own fleet of aircraft but also for clients of our service centre in Prague (LKPR).
Preparation specifics for calibration flights
Calibration flights are not very frequent in number, but they play a major role in the calibration of ground navigation and light systems, e.g. ILS, VOR, NDB or PAPI. Calibration can take place at the airport itself or at track beacons. However, this is always considered a special action from the point of view of air traffic control. The job of the calibration flight crews is usually clearly assigned in advance. This work should be carried out in the following days. These flights move at low altitudes and the aircraft performs non-standard manoeuvres, which could affect surrounding traffic. In this case, a correctly coordinated and planned route is important. It must also be acceptable for air traffic controllers. Our dispatchers encounter calibration flights within the scope of collaborating with the Air Navigation Services of the Czech Republic calibration squadron.
How is a trip around the world planned?
In the business aviation sector, several times a year, we encounter the request for planning a trip around the world. At the beginning, one needs to consider the direction in which a person wants to travel around the globe. The decision is affected mainly by the direction of prevailing winds, typical weather for individual regions during the given season, but also the biorhythm of the human body. All flights must then also be planned, taking into account the total time of the crew’s service in order to ensure a period of rest before every flight. A trip around the world is specific in the amount of the obtained information, often in a very short period of time. In the case of a long-range aircraft, its preparation does not constitute a non-standard situation. However, it is often the opposite case, when a series of stopovers must be planned. The aircraft travels for a relatively long time, and that is why it is necessary to have everything ready and confirmed before departure. A long list of required permits, services at the destination, visas for passengers and crew, but also the political situation in the given country, religious conditions or required vaccination must all be addressed. When we receive such a task, the trip always takes the form of a project. During the preparations, it is very important for the operations centre and pilots to communicate in order for both parties to prepare for less or more frequent situations and ensure the smoothest possible course of the journey. Aside from long-range aircraft, our operations dispatcher helps to realise trips around the world in smaller aircraft as well. A large hurdle for these aircraft is usually crossing the Atlantic and then the Pacific. Sometimes the order is reversed. We have learned to explore remote locations and small islands, where it is possible to land and refuel. Areas, for example the Azores (LPLA/LPAZ/LPPD), Nome (PAOM), Marshall Islands (PKMJ) or Guam (PGUM), are a routine element in our work.
Long distance flights with VLJs
The VLJ phenomenon has greatly influenced the business aviation industry. These relatively small, but performance-advanced aircraft entered the market and have become a common part of air traffic. Although they are mostly short- or mid-range aircraft, their owners jet off on a long-distance flight from time to time. The flying range plays an important role and everything must be thoroughly prepared. During preparations, it is essential to sensitively select a flight route with respect to the VLJ’s amenities and consequently backup airports. The most memorable VLJ was probably the first flight of the Embraer Phenom 100 from Brazil to Europe. It was in 2009, shortly after it was put into operation. Thanks to our long-term mutual cooperation with its manufacturer, our team was approached with the offer to support this beautiful aircraft. Thanks to a wide network of contacts, we were able to find out the specific requirements that a flyover of this kind involves relatively quickly. From securing the airplane’s emergency equipment for arctic areas to the technical specifications and routes used for a flyover without a functioning HF radio. Our reward was praise for a job well done, and, most importantly, customer satisfaction. Thanks to us, the aircraft was able to be presented at the EBACE exhibition in Geneva. Since that time, many Phenom 100 aircraft have crossed the Atlantic Ocean in both directions. Today, our OCC supports a number of clients operating VLJs, especially in North and Latin America as well as Europe.
Flight optimisation options according to different criteria
The flight planning process itself is based on the optimisation of the route in order to best reflect all of the current conditions for the given flight, and so the planned route would be safe. There are many ways in which it is possible to optimise flight planning. The dispatcher must consider a series of factors that have a direct impact on the feasibility of the flight. They are e.g. the aircraft’s flight range, its equipment, flyover countries, weather forecast, etc. After considering all the information, the dispatcher evaluates (in more complex flights, his/her experience and communication with the crew also comes into play) and then suggests the optimal option, according to which the flight can take place. There are carriers who pay close attention to fuel consumption as well as all costs connected to the operation. They will rather fly at a slower speed to a smaller airport in order to lower costs. On the contrary, others prefer speed. We increasingly encounter optimisations that take the passengers’ comfort into account – for example, they would like to sleep on a long-distance flight. In these cases, the dispatcher takes care to avoid forecasted turbulence as much as possible. During urgent flights, it is very often the case that a prepared route must be have the lowest number of flyover permits so that the preparation time is the shortest and the aircraft can take off almost immediately. There are several planning options and the outcome always depends on the specific client, crew, flight and aircraft type. If our clients have long-standing preferences, our team is able to optimise each plan on the basis of previously-discussed criteria.
Flying over oceanic areas with corporate aircraft
Flyovers in oceanic areas are our OCC’s bread and butter. Unlike large aircraft carriers, corporate aircraft take on these flights quite irregularly and their crews do not have as much experience with this type of flying. That is why our team must be especially consistent and prepare every single detail before departure. Crossing oceans carries some specific aspects and there are rules that must be followed. This includes communication (HF, CPDLC) as well as navigation equipment (LRNS, ADS-B/C), flying range, or ability to fly in RVSM space. Today, aircraft exist that are capable of making these flights without stopovers. Of course, it is easier to plan oceanic flyovers with aircraft that have a long flight range, like the G650, G550, F7X, Global 6000, etc. These aircraft can fly at altitudes that commercial airlines rarely use and, thanks to their speed, do not slow down the aircraft traffic in the OTS. They are also less susceptible to changes in weather. Planning flights for aircraft with shorter flight ranges or insufficient navigation equipment heading over oceanic areas is a much greater challenge and requires careful preparation, including ETOPS calculations. Our job is then to “squeeze” these aircraft into the sky between scheduled flights. In one situation, one of our clients had to deal with an aircraft’s technical defect while flying over the Atlantic Ocean. Thanks to the accurate ETOPS calculations, he had no problem arriving at the nearest airport en route to the Bahamas (TXKF). The quick cooperation of the OCC, pilot and airport staff ensured safety and the unpleasant situation was eliminated.
Advantages of 24/7 operational control in unexpected situations
Operational control of aircraft can take several forms. One of them is OCC support; that is, a service that is offered by our company. It brings the end user many advantages. The principle of this department’s operation is based on providing information for current and future flights and the realisation of their planning and preparation. It is the 24/7 status that is often priceless. Dispatchers are working, while the aircraft’s crew is sleeping or is in the air. If an unexpected situation arises, such as changing plans en route or a diversion due to inclement weather, the dispatcher is always one step ahead of the crew when it comes to carrying out changes. The aircraft is still in the air, but services at the new landing airport are already secured. If there is a connecting flight, flight documentation is completed and the flight plan is submitted. Therefore, we not only eliminate the time lag and financial implications, but also the unpleasant situations for our clients’ crews and their passengers. A good example is one of our client’s flights from Delhi (VIDP) to London (EGGW) with an Embraer 190 aircraft. Due to a lower assigned flight level and strong winds, it was necessary to execute an unplanned technical stopover to refuel. The crew contacted our OCC using VHF radio, and with respect to the aircraft’s location, they recommended the most suitable airport along the route. The OCC secured ground handling services, a landing and departure slot, and a fuel tank waiting on a rack, even before the aircraft landed. Furthermore, it prepared new documentation, moved the landing slot at the final destination, and provided refreshments for the crew. The delay was minimal, and in a short time the aircraft was back in the air.
How to work with a flight into a complicated area?
The complexity of an area rests in a series of aspects. We most often encounter political-security or religious hazards in the given area. It is necessary to obtain as much relevant information as possible in order to secure a sufficient level of safety for the given flight. At ABS Jets, we regularly assess the risks of flyovers and aircraft landings. Not only do we take into account safety itself, but we also evaluate cases such as the incidence of epidemic diseases. This rating of all countries worldwide is very dynamic and is subject to current events. Our clients have the opportunity to gain access to this country risk assessment and to include it in their decision-making process when realising flights. If it is necessary to carry out a flight into an area with a high risk assessment, it is advisable to eliminate the danger as much as possible. That can mean not leaving the aircraft in this area for a period longer than is absolutely necessary for the exit/boarding of passengers or cooperating with a security agency.
VIP service in the life of the OCC
Although the preparation of the flight itself does not vary greatly among the different flight categories, it is important to place a greater emphasis on discretion for VIP flights. Our dispatchers can also encounter this in their lives. The dispatcher must not only manage everything in such a way that the passenger receives services at a high level, but above all ensure that the entire process – from picking up the passenger at the departure airport, to his farewell with the ground handling agent at the destination – is seamless and fast. In our profession, the word VIP does not only mean booking VIP lounges at airports, special catering or a waiting limousine/helicopter, but also a specific way of behaving and dealing with clients. We always aim to meet our client’s requests. If it is not possible to secure everything exactly according to the client’s wishes, a suitable and acceptable alternative solution must be found in time.