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2 Answers

Best Process to Plan an IFR Flight

Asked by: 1834 views Instrument Rating

So it seems like every time I plan an IFR flight (student currently) everything seems a little bit disorganized and unstructured. I'll sit there while I'm planning and think "what am I missing, what am I missing...oh yea, are there any SID's or obstacle departures?". So for something as important as flying without being able to see out the window, I find myself second guessing if I have not only planned my route correctly (and efficiently), but if I have overlooked or missed anything important. I did a little bit of searching online and people have various sayings and acronyms, but again, I still feel like this isn't fully covering everything necessary to complete the flight seamlessly. With that said, does anyone have a checklist, or mental process they use to make sure they don't overlook anything when planning an IFR flight? A lot of my flights will originate and terminate at uncontrolled fields in mountainous terrain, so it adds quite a bit to the planning portion to avoid obstacles and CFIT. Perhaps a little bit more studying and reading is due on my part, but at the present moment it seems like there are a couple gray areas in portions of the flight, particularly the departure phase and arrival phase (note: at uncontrolled fields), where the course and plan seem somewhat unstructured and up to the pilot to determine the best course of action. Anyways, I suppose I'm looking for something that I can reference and be confident in my flight that I can complete without ATC and if multiple instruments were to fail without guessing along the way. Questions like when to plan my descent from enroute to the instrument approach seem largely at the mercy of ATC. Or remembering to verify that the VOR has been checked within the previous 30 days.  When planning my route, should I look for the nearest fix/navaid to begin, or look for one further away (even though it goes across rough terrain), or even rely on DUATs to choose for me? Thanks for any help you can give!

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2 Answers

  1. Mark Kolber on Jun 17, 2013

    That’s a very interesting question. I hope you get a bunch of answers to this one since different folks may have different views on the relative importance of some planning activities. I can’t help with cute mnemonics but here’s my “approach” to planning the departure and arrival phases of an IFR flight.


    1. Are there departure procedures applicable to the flight? That means reviewing SIDs ODPs (both graphic and text) and takeoff minimums not only to determine what applies but also to determine whether my airplane has the performance capability to do what’s required to keep me out of the rocks.

    2. What are the arrival procedures back into my departure airport? In case of a problem shortly after takeoff, will I be able get back and will I keep clear of terrain while I attempt to do so.


    1. Are there appropriate STARs? One thing I’ve learned is that, even in an area where piston GA doesn’t generally get assigned STARs or a STAR is indicated as being for jets only, STAR routing is often an indication of what the routing is likely to be even if the STAR itself if never mentioned.

    2. Do I have the performance capability for the missed approach (I’m mentioning performance capabilities specifically because you said you flew i mountainous terrain).

    3. Review the applicable alternate minimums and obstacle departure procedures. Yes, those are technically for departures but can give you clues to what you need to do in case of a problem or need to go missed when already below the MDA on an approach (remember that obstacle clearance for the missed is premised on being at at or above MDA at or before the MAP when you start the missed; you may be in ODP territory below of after that)

    4. Despite the ability to go GPS-direct in many areas, I still review approach procedures at my destination as part of route planning and will generally file a route that will feed me directly into an IAP.

    Hope that’s a good start.

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  2. Patrick Flannigan on Jun 21, 2013

    And some additional insight, despite all your meticulous planning, be ready for ATC to destroy your plans by giving you alternate routing when you pick up your clearance.

    This will help you:

    Familiarize yourself with nearby fixes.
    Have your charts ready.
    Make sure you have enough fuel for the reroute.
    Don’t take off until you understand the new route / plan.

    Thanks to sites like FltPlan.com and apps like ForeFlight, I find myself surprised less, thanks to the ability to look at recently cleared routes. I just file a route similar to what ATC is clearing.

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