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Some questions about flight planning and ACARS

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Some questions about flight planning and ACARS

Old 27th Feb 2019, 13:06
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Join Date: Feb 2019
Location: Amongst the cirrus clouds
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Some questions about flight planning and ACARS

Hey guys..

Have a few questions about flight planning and ACARS..

1. Does the cockpit crew cross check the fuel quantities mentioned on the dispatch papers? That is, do they cross check those values against values they compute manually using some sort of fuel consumption tables?

2. When a flight crew flies multiple sectors in a day, how are the dispatch papers given to them assuming they're at a place that isn't a base/hub for their airline? Do the ground staff hand it over to them when they arrive there? I have heard some cockpits have printers in them. In this case, are the dispatch papers for the next flight sent via ACARS?

3. How does the crew receive arrival information like which STAR, runway and approach they have to fly? Does ATC advise them when they're nearing their destination? Or do they have to request for it? How far out from the destination do they normally get/request this information?

4. Do flight crew know which gate they have to park at before landing? Because aircraft rarely seem to stop right after landing and clearing the active runway. They seem to taxi immediately via the correct route to the gate.

5. I often hear that flight crew sometimes check with maintenance/dispatch mid-air about some problem they have. Am I right to assume that if a ground station is available, this communication would happen over VHF? Or can the crew use the company data link for this (over HF/SATCOM) if they're far away from a maintenance base?

6. ACARS communication can happen over VHF, HF or satellite depending on the airline and aircraft's equipment?

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Old 28th Feb 2019, 01:09
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Join Date: May 2000
Location: Seattle
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1. Most Captains have a rule of thumb to estimate fuel required.

2. For airports where there are frequent stops, a handler is usually contracted to receive flight plan paperwork and give it to the crew. It is possible to transmit via ACARS, but it is not done often.

3. If you go to an airport often enough, you can guess. ATIS often has the information. The first approach frequency or the last center frequency will give the STAR and approach expectations.

4. Yes, via company radio or ACARS.

5. Any of the above.

6. Yes. HF is least used because of reliability issues.
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Old 28th Feb 2019, 11:47
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Join Date: Apr 2009
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1. Flight plans for most airlines are prepared by complex software packages/providers (LIDO in our case) that take into account amongst other things the likely departure, arrival, routings, flight levels, flight time, performance degradation factor for the individual aircraft, temperatures and winds. As a general rule of thumb if you know that your average burn per hour for the aircraft type is say 6T an hour then this multiplied by your flight time will give you a base line. Add on the alternate fuel plus the 30mins extra required by law and you won't be far off. We are not required to try and recalculate the flight plan calculated fuel. Once we are onboard and have programmed the flight management computers I am yet to see a flight plan set of fuel figures that doesn't agree to the paper versions.

2. Flight plans are printed at the start of the day. They also come via modem to our electronic flight bag (EFB - tablet computer) and to our ipads. It is rare for them to change even on multi sector days as most of the sectors you fly have designated routes between them to facilitate ATC mainly. When flight plans do change it is usually due to airspace closing for military or weather reasons or the company refiles us to avoid a lengthy slot delay. The decision to refile will (if time available) usually be communicated via ACARS in flight so that the captain is aware and can sometimes have some input if various options are available. The new plans can be sent via ACARS and usually a backup set will be handed to us on arrival by our handling agent. The EFB and ipads will sync with the new plans.

3. A lot of airports have digital ATIS so if your aircraft is suitably equipped then you can receive it at any time that you have a relevant comms link. We tend to get it before we leave for both destination and departure and then at a suitable time in the cruise put it into auto update mode to avoid any surprise late changes. If there is no digital ATIS then its not the end of the world. We would have received metars and reviewed the TAFS so have a good idea of the likely runway and given our direction of flight the arrival to be flown. Some airports have strict rules driven by things such as noise abatement which dictate the runway combinations for the time of day/week day etc. Its all in our notes either in the form of notams, company notams or from the countries AIP which LIDO take the relevant bits out of and paste into their airport pages for us.

4. Sometimes we know and sometimes we only get advised after landing. Some airports (Rome for example) have a fixed taxi routing after landing where you continue without stopping after vacating the runway to a designated check point and only then contact the ground controller who will give you onwards. Other airports have auto handoffs to a ground controller so that the tower frequency is kept quiet. At others we have to stop or slow down as its a 50/50 as to which way we need to turn and often frequencies are congested and we can't get a word in.

5. All of the above. Can send an ACARS as well and give them a headsup that we may need an engineer on arrival or a deferral number to return to base. Some destinations won't be suitable for taking certain aircraft defects into (landing performance/lack of engineering as just two examples) and a decision may be taken back at base for you to divert into somewhere else to have the problem sorted. Its a pain for the passengers hoping to get to their destination but it ensures that you don't ground an aircraft for a potentially extended period of time at a potentially rarely used outstation.

6. True. CPDLC will soon be the preferred means for most. FANS is being used in Europe by many operators (including my own) whilst our long haul aircraft have the all singing and dancing CPDLC.
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Old 28th Feb 2019, 12:00
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Join Date: Mar 2001
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1) Depends, but usually i don't bother much. Flying shorthaul we carry usually double the trip fuel anyway and i am more interested in which kind of contigency fuel we carry and if i have to fuel for a roundtrip or not. The flight planning system does a stellar job with the fuel figures anyway.

2) Good airlines do not have them on paper, they are on the pilots iPads/personal EFBs and those can be used to check all documentation as well, order fuel, see the charts and stuff like that. If the airlines is still living in the past and uses paper, the ground handling staff usually provides the paperwork. ACARS printers can be used, but many of them are not really suited for that as they do not support a full width page setup. If flying multiple sectors plans for all sectors can be handed over.

3) It is usually part of the computed flight plan depending on weather forecasted for the time of arrival and filed with the ATC flight plan if that is possible at the destination. Apart from that the approach in use will be on the (D-)ATIS, apart from that the prevailing winds in the METAR will give a fairly good idea which approaches might be in use. Pretty much never get cleared a STAR at my homebase, but rather just the points instead which legally absolves us from having to follow the vertical profile.

4) Depends on company procedures. In a previous company we got gate information for our flight and all connecting flights send onto the flightdeck printer, in my current company we don't get any information at all and still don't have to stop as we do get continuous clearances along the way. However, we do know in which area we usually park.

5) ACARS is preferred, clear and direct communication and basically the same text that is in the techlog for the write up will be used. On the ground we can use the phone which sometimes allows for a faster solution if a maintenance advised reset procedure seems likely.
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Old 28th Feb 2019, 16:46
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Excellent answers, gentlemen.. many thanks!
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