ICAO Aircraft Type Designators

The FAA plans to switch all flight plans–VFR and IFR–to the ICAO format on June 5, 2017.

I’ve offered help on the most vexing problem for most pilots–the myriad codes for communications, navigation, and transponder equipment–here at BruceAir.

But long-time U.S. pilots also need to understand and use the proper ICAO type designators for the aircraft they fly. Most codes use four-characters; some use only three letters.

Some of the codes are the same as those used on the FAA domestic flight plan form, but many are different–sometimes surprising so.

For example, the ICAO designator for the Cessna 172 is C172.

But the ICAO designator for a fixed-gear turbocharged Cessna 182 is C82S.

Note that the ICAO designators don’t include hypens or other special characters. For example, the Beechcraft Debonair is BE33, not BE-33.

The easiest way to check the type designators for the aircraft you fly is via the web-based tool at the ICAO website, here. The flexible search feature quickly displays the designators assigned to aircraft by manufacturer, make-model name, and so forth.

You can also find the correct type designators in FAA order JO 7360.1B.

Changes coming to Flight Service October 1, 2015

The latest FAAST Blast from FAA includes a teaser about forthcoming changes to Flight Services provided by Lockheed-Martin AFSS:

  • The 122.0 Flight Watch frequency will go away; services available from Flight Watch will then be available on current discreet FSS frequencies.
  • All flight plans, VFR and IFR, will be filed using the ICAO format.

The notice says in part:

General aviation pilots increasingly have turned to automation in recent years to file flight plans and receive pre-flight briefings. New technology such as ADS-B is providing more inflight options to pilots. Flight Service will incorporate the industry’s newest technologies and reduce or eliminate other functions to create efficiencies and value. The changes to Flight Watch and RAA are the first in what is anticipated to be a series of right-sizing initiatives surrounding flight services provided to pilots.

For details, see this link.

A New Way to Open and Close VFR Flight Plans

I recently ferried a C182 from Boulder City, NV to Boulder, CO (route at SkyVector here).

This a was VFR trip with the airplane’s new owner (who hadn’t flown in more than 30 years–talk about getting back into flying), and, based on previous experience flying the route, I knew that for much of the trip we’d be in poor radar/communications coverage at 9500 MSL. It was a good opportunity to try the new EasyActivate and EasyClose features available via Lockheed Martin Flight Services (video below).

Now, I know the arguments about the value of filing VFR flight plans, and like many pilots, I rarely file VFR flight plans. Contacting FSS to open a VFR flight plan, especially when departing busy airspace, can be cumbersome, and even with cell phones, calling FSS at the other end and navigating the prompts/menus to close a flight plan with a briefer can also be pain.

But on long trips like this one, across sparsely populated areas and in a new airplane, I like having backup for SAR. For that purpose, I filed a detailed route (see above) and stuck to it. (I did pick up flight following on the leg from KAEG–necessary to get through the ABQ Class C and to deal efficiently with the airspace around Denver.)

This new feature is handy. File your VFR flight plan directly with L-M (not DUAT or DUATS) and select the appropriate options. About 30 minutes before your ETD, you’ll get an email or text message with a link to open the flight plan. When you’re ready to go, click/tap the link. You’ll receive a confirmation.

About 30 minutes before your ETA, you’ll get another message from L-M with a link to close the flight plan. After you land, click/tap the link, and almost immediately you’ll receive a confirmation.

No menus. No waiting to talk to a briefer over a scratchy connection. And with the reminders, less risk of forgetting to close a VFR flight plan.

Given that many of my flights involve trips into the wide open spaces of the West, often in airplanes that either aren’t equipped or suitable for IFR, I’m going to take advantage of this new way to use VFR flight plans.

Changes to ICAO Flight Plans Coming in November

ICAO is making several changes to its flight plan form, effective November 15, 2012. You can read about the changes on the FAA website, here.

Although most U.S. pilots still use the FAA flight plan form, ICAO IFR flight plans are required if you want automatic assignment of RNAV SIDs and STARs.

Changes coming this fall include:

  • Additional alphanumeric qualifiers in Item 10 (Equipment and Capabilities) that reflect enhancements to operational capabilities in ground-based and satellite-based navigation and surveillance equipment. The new qualifiers cover equipment for Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Contract (ADS-C), and Controller Pilot Data Link Future Air Navigation System (CPDLC-FANS), as well as, several other qualifier additions and deletions.
  • Significant changes to Item 18 (Other Information), including formatting, indicator definitions, specific grammar for special handling, and new Performance Based Navigation (PBN/) qualifiers for Area Navigation (RNAV) and Required Navigation Performance (RNP).
  • Specific format for aerodromes not listed in the Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP).
  • Delay (DLA), Change (CHG), Cancel (CNL) and Arrival (ARR) message formats.
  • Ability to file a flight plan up to 120 hours prior to departure.