Flight planning: how it’s done

One of the most important tasks for success is flight planning. To the untrained eye, it may seem that this exercise consists only of drawing a line between the departure airport and the destination airport, but in reality it is much more complex.

Flight planning consists of creating the flight route taking into account no-fly zones, restrictions, weather, altitude, among many other things.

To be a good pilot you need to know a lot more than just flying an airplane and flight planning is one of the skills you need to acquire before you can get your commercial pilot’s license.

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What is flight planning?

Flight plan planning consists of creating a flight plan that will allow the aircraft to reach its destination as safely and efficiently as possible. To achieve the goal, two safety-critical components must be taken into account: calculating the amount of fuel to ensure that the flight can land safely and following air traffic control regulations to reduce the possibility of a collision.

The flight planner’s task will be to select the best course, speed and altitude to reduce fuel costs while ensuring the safety of the flight.

Planificación de vuelo

Factors to consider in flight planning

In order to carry out the flight planning task successfully, a series of calculations must be performed that must be as accurate as possible.

Calculate the Point of Equal Time (PET).
Determine the Point of Safe Return (PSR).
Establish the Point of No Return.
Calculate the Top of Climb or TOC.
Calculate the Top of Descent (TOD).

Each of these operations will ensure the success and efficiency in the course of a flight.

Point of Equal Time

The Point of Equal Time is the exact point on the route where the aircraft will take the same time to return to its origin as to arrive at its destination. The point can be established either for the total duration of the route or for a specific leg.

The calculation of this point does not only take into account the distance. In order to calculate this factor correctly, the wind must also be taken into account, since it is rare to fly in a calm wind.

To make the correct calculation, therefore, the course of the aircraft and the wind forecast must be known. The formula for the correct calculation of point of equal time will be:


DIST: Distance

GSH: Aircraft speed returning to the point of origin.

GSO: Aircraft speed heading to the destination point.

Point of safe return

The Point of Safe Return is the point on the route where the aircraft could return to its point of origin with fuel reserves intact. While the Point of Equal Time takes into account the distance, the PSR takes into account the fuel and range of the aircraft.

A formula similar to the one above will be used to calculate this safe return point:


END: Autonomy expressed in hours.

GSH: Aircraft speed returning to the point of origin.

GSO: Aircraft speed heading to the destination point.

Point of no return

In flight planning, the point of no return is the point at which the aircraft can no longer return to the point of origin.

Top of Climb

For navigations it will be necessary to calculate the TOC (Top of climb). This point marks the altitude at which the aircraft will reach cruising altitude.

To know what is the TOC we must take into account the altitude at which the airport is located, the altitude at which we want to climb, the vertical climb speed and the horizontal speed of the aircraft, in addition to knowing the weather forecast.

Top of descent

The top of descent (TOD) is the point at which the aircraft should begin its descent.

An error in the calculation of this factor can lead to a lengthening of the flight or flying lower than necessary. This implies an increase in fuel consumption.