ICAO Format Flight Plans

On June 29, 2008 the FAA started requiring ICAO Format Flight Plans on all flights using RNAV departures and arrivals. Nearly a year has come and gone, yet the general aviation community is still awash with confusion and misinformation. The truth is ICAO Form 7233-4 (Fig.1) is more complicated, but here at FltPlan.com we’ve made the transition easy.

Fig.1 - ICAO Form 7233-4.

Here’s what to do.

Go to your Main Menu Page, and select the A/C ICAO DATA link on the left side. (It’s in a yellow box half way down the page.) Take a quick look at the overview there, then select your aircraft and click PRESS HERE WHEN DONE. On the next page (Fig.2) fill in the white, yellow, and green shaded areas to indicate your equipment and RNAV capabilities. Drop down menus facilitate the process and there are help menus for all items. Again, click PRESS HERE WHEN DONE to save your information. You only need to enter this information once. Our system will save your data and automatically enter it when you file your ICAO format flight plans.
Fig.2 - FltPlan.com ICAO Data Entry Page.

A few things to remember. (including "Where did my /Q go? It's showing /M!")

First of all, don’t confuse an ICAO format flight plan with an International flight plan. An ICAO format flight plan is exactly what it says – it’s a format. An International flight plan is when you fly internationally.
Second, when talking to ATC about aircraft equipment it’s necessary to specify whether you’re referring to ICAO or Domestic formatting. Here’s why: Government computers are currently translating ICAO format flight plans back into Domestic format to send to Air Traffic Controllers. The change to ICAO formatting is part of a huge transition from the current system to the new ERAM (En Route Automation Modernization) system. Because of the many computer networks involved in ATC, the complete changeover to the use of ICAO data will be quite some time in the works. If you’re capable of PDCs (pre-departure clearance), you’ll also notice that your filed ICAO equipment information has been translated back into the Domestic format.
Finally, an item that causes many pilots confusion is the wake turbulence category. This will appear directly after the aircraft type. Wake turbulence categories are as follows:
  • "H" for Heavy – Greater than 300,000 lbs. maximum certificated take-off weight
  • "M" for Medium – Between 15,000 and 300,000 lbs. maximum certificated take-off weight
  • "L" for Light – Less than 15,000 lbs. maximum certificated take-off weight
    The confusion here is that in Domestic format the equipment suffix appears in this position. When filing ICAO format, the equipment is entered in item 10 (versus right after the aircraft type) and appears as a string of letters in the item 10 equipment box. So a Challenger 601 with standard equipment (which is VHF, ADF, VOR, ILS) and DME, HF Radio, RVSM, and RNP certification, and Mode S transponder would look like this: CL60/M – SDHRWZ/S (Fig.3). If you’re flying a Piper Saratoga with standard equipment (VHF, ADF, VOR, ILS) and DME, GPS, point-to-point RNAV capability, and a Mode C transponder it would look like this: PA32/L – SDGZ/C. (Fig.4)
    Fig.3 - ICAO NavLog for a Challenger. Fig.4 - ICAO NavLog for a Piper Saratoga.

    Who does this affect?

    All pilots filing domestic Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) flight plans and intending to use RNAV departure or arrival procedures, including RNAV SIDS or STARs, must file an ICAO format flight plan.
    You can still file domestic flight plans if
  • you’re filing Visual Flight Rules (VFR) flight plans
  • you’re filing Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) flight plans and do not want RNAV departure or arrival

    Equipment and Capabilities.

    Why did the FAA make this change? Simply put, U.S. pilots have entered an era of globalization, and uniform standards prevent chaotic and unsafe conditions. Additionally, the ICAO format takes the guesswork out of entering equipment information. As aviation technology progresses, it’s possible to have more equipment on board than ever before. In the Domestic format, Form 7233-1 (Fig.5 and Fig.6), fitting the multiple possible combinations into the limited categories creates difficulties. Prior to the advent of RVSM and the new transponders, 26 letter categories were sufficient. However with current RVSM requirements and seven possible types of transponder, the old system became cumbersome. For instance a /Q is a /R with RVSM and /L is a /G with RVSM. With the ICAO format, instead of one suffix which might cover several pieces of equipment, each piece of equipment now has its own letter “qualifier”. Given the flexibility of hundreds of thousands of possible combinations of equipment and transponders, the new format allows ATC to know your navigation and equipment capabilities long before you leave the ground. Having this information enables ATC to provide the most expeditious routing for your departure or arrival.
    Fig.5 - Domestic NavLog for a Challenger. Fig.6 - Domestic NavLog for a Piper Saratoga.

    RNAV DPs and STARs.

    In addition to the equipment, different airplanes have different levels of accuracy of RNAV capabilities that allow pilots to fly precise paths when flying a SID or a STAR. With the ICAO format flight plan, an equipment letter of Z means there is additional RNAV information in item 18 (other information). When you enter your RNAV capabilities in your aircraft ICAO data page, the FltPlan.com system makes a notation in item 18 of your flight plan that tells the FAA computers that your aircraft and pilots are capable of flying RNAV SID or STAR (Fig.4). This is noted by NAV/RNVD1A1E2, where
  • RNV means RNAV capability
  • D1 means departure capability of 1 NM arrival
  • A1 means arrival capability of 1 NM
  • E2 means enroute capability of 2 NM
    (See Fig.7)
    Fig.7 - ICAO Form 7233-4

    ICAO format appears more complex, and it will be some time before the ATC computer systems are all on board. However, more uniform and accurate information will allow for increased safety in the future. Certainly ICAO Form 7233-4 and all its equipment codes may seem daunting, but FltPlan.com can take the work out it for you.

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