The Flight Plan Format (real world)


Important note:

In November 2012 the ICAO will implement a worldwide change of the flight plan format: "The nature and scope of the amendment is to update the ICAO model flight plan form in order to meet the needs of aircraft with advanced capabilities and the evolving requirements of automated air traffic management (ATM) systems, while taking into account compatibility with existing systems, human factors, training, cost and transition aspects."
ICAO State Letter (AN 13/2.1-08/50) - 25 June 2008

The flight plan format presented below is according to current ICAO standards and will be subject of change during a transition phase. The new flight plan format format will be explained when changes take effect.


The goal of this chapter is to explain the ICAO flight plan format by discussing an example of a verified flight plan of AIRAC cycle 1008. Before getting into details a few basic items shall be known:


1. All times used for aviation are always ZULU (z) which equals UTC. Local times are only used on flight tickets to please the passengers.


2. Only CAPITAL LETTERS are used for flight plans.


3. For writing flight plans it is mandatory to strictly stick to the format - watch the dashes, slashes and spaces. It does not matter if you write the flight plan in a single row or in several rows (like it is done in our example to make it easier to read).


The example given shows a flight of a single Airbus A319 flying from Copenhagen (Denmark) to Frankfurt/Main (Germany):


-N0420F360 BISTA UT503 MIC T155 ALOSI T157 FUL T153 GED


What do we know about the flight reading the flight plan? Let us have a closer look at the 18 fields of the ICAO flight plan format:



Field 1 - "Message Type":

There are several types of messages used for the automated data processing by responsible ATC agencies. "FPL" represents a flight plan.


Field 2 - "Aircraft ID":

General aviation will enter their aircraft registration here which is used as their call sign. Commercial airlines will put in their flight callsign consisting of the ICAO registered tri-letter code (i.e. "DLH" for Lufthansa, "AAL" for American Airlines, "AFR" for Air France, etc.) and the flight number. In our example "DLH560" we have the "Lufthansa 560".


Field 3 - "Flight Rules":

A letter designator represents the flight rules: "I"= IFR, "V"= VFR, "Y"=IFR-VFR, "Z"=VFR-IFR.

In our example the Lufthansa 560 will do an IFR flight.


Field 4 - "Type of Flight":

A letter designator represents the type of flight: "S"=scheduled, "N"=non-scheduled, "G"=general, "M"=military, "X"=training.

In our example the Lufthansa 560 will be a scheduled flight.


Field 5 - "Number":

This is where you put the number of aircraft for this flight. For civil traffic usually only single aircraft will be granted by ATC. Military flight formations will enter the number of planes in the formation here.


Field 6 - "Aircraft Type":

Only registered ICAO aircraft type designators (or ZZZZ) for the type of aircraft will be accepted here (i.e. "A346" for Airbus A340-600, "B744" for Boeing 747-400, "B230" for Bell Helicopter 230 or "C14T" for Cessna 414 turbine, etc.).

In our example the Lufthansa 560 will use an Airbus A319.


Field 7 - "Wake Turbolence Category":

A letter designator represents the wake turbolence category:

"L"=light: maximum permissible take-off mass up to 7000kg inclusively;

"M"=medium: maximum permissible take-off mass of less than 136000kg but more than 7000kg;

"H"=heavy: maximum permissible take-off mass of 136000kg or more;

"J"=super: at present exclusively for Airbus A380.

The A319 used in our example fits into the wake turbolence category "medium".


Field 8 - "Equipment":

Each letter in this field represents certain communication and navigation equipment. Information given after the "/" represents secondary equipment.

The following letters are assigned to available and serviceable equipment:

A - not assigned

B - not assigned



E - not assigned


G - ( GNSS)



J - Data Link (supplementary info at field 18 required: DAT/S, DAT/H, DAT/V, DAT/M)

K - ( MLS)


M - Omega

N - if no equipment is carried, existing equip. is unserviceable or if the pilot is not permitted to use it



Q - not assigned

R - RNP type vertification

S - if standard equipment ( VHF RTF, ADF, VOR and ILS) is carried and serviceable





X - if mandatory by ATS

Y - 8.33kHz radio spacing

Z - other equipment (supplementary info at field 18 required)


Field 9 - "Aerodrome of Departure":

Only four-letter ICAO designators (not to be mixed up with the IATA three-letter codes) will be accepted here (i.e. EGLL for London Heathrow or EDDF for Frankfurt/Main).

In our example the Lufthansa 560 will depart at EKCH, Copenhagen.


Field 10 - "Time of Departure":

Insert the planned departure ZULU time using four digits (HHMM) if the flight is planned for the same day. For flights taking place another day the six digit date-time group format (DDHHMM) applies.

In our example the flight will depart at 1200z.


Field 11 - "Cruising Speed":

Enter the planned cruising speed using

a) "N" + four digits for indication in knots,

b) "M" + three digits for indication of the Mach number in hundrets,

c) "K" + four digits for indication in km/h.

The first digits of the parameters entered shall be completed by the digit "0" if necessary.

In our example the flight is planned for 420kts cruising speed.


Field 12 - "Level":

Enter the planned altitude as a Flight Level using "F" + three digits (i.e. F280 for FL280) or "A" + three digits indicating ft MSL in thousands of feet. The semicircular rule for enroute vertical separation applies!

In our example the flight will cruise at flight level 360 (FL360).


Field 13 - "Route":

The route format consists of waypoints (navigational points, VORs) and airways.

IFR flight plans will always beginn with a waypoint followed by an airway or "DCT" (direct) and then by the next waypoint - and so on. The first wayoint will usually be the exit point of a SID. The last point usually is the entry point of a STAR.

For a pre-planned step climb or in case of certain route requirements (altitude or speed restrictions) waypoints may have amendments filed within field 13:

[...] MIC T155 ALOSI/N0440F380 T157 FUL T153 [...]

The highlighted amendment of this fictional example represents a pre-planned step climb to FL380 with a further speed of 440kts at and after the waypoint "ALOSI".


Field 14 - "Aerodrome of Destination":

Only four-letter ICAO designators will be accepted here (i.e. EGLL for London Heathrow or EDDF for Frankfurt/Main).

In our example the Lufthansa 560 will land at EDDF, Frankfurt.


Field 15 - "Total Estimated Enroute Time":

Insert the estimated enroute time using four digits (HHMM).

In our example the enroute time is estimated to be 1 hour and 20 minutes.


Field 16 - "Alternate Aerodrome":

For safety reasons filing an alternate aerodrome is mandatory. Only four-letter ICAO designators will be accepted here (i.e. EGLL for London Heathrow or EDDF for Frankfurt/Main).

In our example the alternate aerodrome will be EDFH, Frankfurt/Hahn.


Field 17 - "2nd Alternate Aerodrome":

Optional a second alternate aerodrome can be filed. If a second alternate aerodrome is not deemed to be required it can be left out. Only four-letter ICAO designators will be accepted here (i.e. EGLL for London Heathrow or EDDF for Frankfurt/Main).

In our example the second alternate aerodrome will be EDSB, Baden-Baden Airport.


Field 18 - "Other Information":

This field is used for additional free text information and can be left out (the "-" will remain even if field 18 is left blank). Here usually information like "HC" (hazardous cargo), "VIP2" (for very important person(s) of category 2), additional route information for special flights, supplementary info to field 8 (equipment) or comparable things will be entered.

Although not very common, in our example the Lufthansa 560 has the head of a state as a passenger and would be handled as a state flight with respective priority. Except the pope, who usually flies Alitalia as "HEAD OF STATE", most nations provide such state flights using aircraft with military registration.


I hope this explanation was useful and understandable.


Marc Westhofen


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