We’re all familiar with weather provider WSI through its flight-planning kiosks at FBOs around the country, but WSI also has a paid Web service called PilotBrief Online (to go along with its other computer-based products). PilotBrief Online gives pilots a plethora of flight-planning tools and its patented NowRad radar. You can select your routing based on clearances that controllers have already given to pilots flying the same route. The service is popular with international flyers, because WSI not only offers international filing and briefings but also creates weather products, like virtual radar in remote parts of the world where there are no dishes, based on data it does have. With WSI, when you file your flight plan, it goes directly to the FAA instead of through a third party, because WSI is an official FAA filing provider. Your plan will also show up at WSI kiosks at the airport, a handy feature. Check it out at wsi.com/aviation/solutions.
FlightPrep Online Flight Planner (flightprep.com) is a Web application that lets you access your information and get weather and file flight plans wherever you are. When you plan your trip, you can do it using FlightPrep’s electronic charts, scanned sectionals or WACs or scanned en route charts. The Online Flight Planner lays out your flight for you, generating a flight log and showing you all the pertinent TFRs and special-use airspace, and it shows significant weather along your route as well. One feature I like is the profile view, which shows your planned route of flight relative to terrain. While FlightPrep isn’t the only company with profile view, it’s an especially handy tool for when your trip takes you off the airways.
Computer-Based Flight Planning
If you want to use a computer-based program, one that resides on your hard drive instead of on the Web, there are a number of really good ones available from companies like Jeppesen and WSI. Some are geared more toward corporate/commercial users and others more toward private flyers, and some of the programs are fairly expensive while others require regular data updates at additional cost. Still, they’re popular because they offer features not available on most free online services, such as international weather and routing and available dispatch services.
One of the best-known PC-based flight planners is Jeppesen’s FliteStar (jeppesen.com/flitestar), a program that resides on your computer and uses an Internet connection to download the latest weather from Jeppesen’s weather center and to file flight plans. As Jeppesen does with its charts, the company sells FliteStar by global geographic region. There are also different levels of features optimized for different kinds of users, and the Jeppesen data that underlie FliteStar’s capabilities can be updated regularly too, though you can choose to do that as infrequently as once a year. Depending on the version, you’ll see depicted a variety of nav data, including airports and navaids, airways, restricted airspace, numerous map features and more. The interface is slick, and the weather and flight-planning utilities are sophisticated and powerful, which is why it has become popular with corporate flight departments around the world.
Seattle Avionics’ Voyager flight-preparation program (seattleavionics .com) is another popular computer-based product with a loyal following. The software not only lets pilots check the weather before they go but also works forecast winds into the flight-plan profile, calculating the best altitudes for the conditions based on the chosen airplane’s profile, factoring in winds and fuel costs. It will then file your flight-plan print approach charts (a very desirable option in my book) and nav logs, if you so desire.
The Revolution Continues
Again, all of these computerized preflight-planning tools have made pilots’ lives easier and flying safer. As I said, computerized flight planning has improved my flying experience by making the planning process better, easier and much, much faster. I’m a convert. I don’t own a single paper chart, and I haven’t called Flight Service for a briefing in ages. I’ve got better weather information available to me at home and in the airplane than the briefer has at his or her station.
For more information about the programs and Web applications I mentioned, visit the companies’ websites. There are more cool capabilities and useful options than I could hope to mention here, and based on my experiences talking with other pilots about the planning process, I know that personal preference plays a big role in determining which electronic flight-planning tool is best for you. You know the way you fly and the way you like to plan, and with all the options out there, it’s a good bet you’ll find a preflight-planning tool to fit your needs.