Don’t Let ICAO Sneak Up on You!

By Rose Marie Kern (photo)

For years now the FAA hasrose-headshot1 been moving towards changing all flight plans, both VFR and IFR filed within the U.S. border to ICAO.  A few years ago ICAO Flight Plans were required for IFR flights requesting RVSM handling, then it was required of all aircraft crossing the ADIZ.  As of the end of January 2017, ALL flight plans will be required to use the ICAO form.
But it doesn’t have to be painful.  For GA aircraft doing VFR flights, most of the information entered into the current domestic flight plans is the same, it just looks a little different.   If you call flight service, you give all the same information for all but three fields of the flight plan.  What’s new is the type of flight field, the wake turbulence category and the equipment field.    There are a lot of extra fields in the bottom half of the flight plan – but they are not required for domestic flights.
Say you are going to travel from home to Oshkosh.  You have a nice little one prop aircraft.  Right now your flight plan looks like this:
VFR , N12345, C210/A, 145kts, Departing RWF, at 1300z, altitude 095, Route, Destination, ETE, Fuel, POB, Pilot Contact Info, and color of aircraft.
The ICAO form uses the same information in a different order, and adds fields for type of flight (G is General Aviation) and Wake Turbulence (in this case L for Light Aircraft) and Surveillance Equipment (usually Mode A or C).
N12334, VFR, G-(General), C210, L (light), SD, A, Departing KRWF, 1300z, N0145, A095, Route, KOSH, ETE, FUEL, POB, Acft Color and Pilot contact information.
Again, most of it is the same.  The speed adds “N” for Knots and is 4 digits.  The Departure and Destination airports include the “K” indicating these are airports inside the U.S.   The Altitude begins with “A” if it is below the flight levels.
The departure, destination and alternate airports must use the K to identify them as U.S. airports.  Smaller alphanumeric airports will not be picked up in those fields so you must use ZZZZ and then place the actual airport identifier in the OTHER INFORMATION field.  (/DEP 5V5). Airports in the route field just use the domestic 3 letter ID.
The only real confusing bits are the changes to the equipment field.  In the current domestic flight plan a slant is added after the aircraft type and one letter describes what you have. (C210/A, BE36/G)  The ICAO form wants you to list all the equipment you have on the aircraft.  Filing VFR means you can keep it simple, but where before you used /A to indicate your type of navigation equipment and what transponder equipment “talks” to the radars and satellites – now you have two fields with a lot of choices.
/A would translate as “SD” in the EQUIPMENT field and “A” in the SURVEILLANCE field.  “S” means the aircraft has VOR, VHF RTF and ILS, and “D” for DME.  The “A” means a Mode A transponder.   /G is GPS and /N is Nil, which is used if you have no navigation equipment or if it is out of service.
Before such time as you are required to fiHalf Pagele ICAO, it would be good to study the options for those two fields.  Drop-down lists are available on the ICAO flight plans in the Flight Service PilotWeb site, the DUATs Site, and most of the private vendors.   The options for both fields are also provided below.
There are several more fields on the ICAO form related to survival equipment or other data – these are entirely optional for domestic flights.   The only other thing to know for a simple VFR flight is that if you have any remarks to list in the Other Information field, you must start it with RMK/.    (RMK/PLA for practice low approach).
Change is not comfortable, but this one isn’t really as tough as it seems at first.  You can start filing ICAO for your VFR domestic flights right now if you want to.  Within a few months it will be second nature.


Editor’s Note:  Watch for Rose’s new book of aviation coming in December.  If you have questions on this or other items related to ATC, contact Rose through her website,
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