Understanding conventional navigation SIDs and STARs, and airways
By Justin Martin 

The purpose of this lesson is to assist an IFR pilot by explaining the purpose and requirements of a good IFR Flight Plan.

At the conclusion of this lesson, the IFR pilot will be able to identify the parts of the Flight Plan (i.e. DPs, STARs, High/Low Airways, VORs & NDBs, Waypoints/Fixes etc.), understand what is required of him/her while filing the Flight Plan, and understand how to properly file an IFR Flight Plan.


What is a Flight Plan?

A Flight Plan is a "form" filled out by a pilot which includes all the important aspects of a flight. This "form" is sent to Air Traffic Controllers so they know where the pilot is going. The information that a good Flight Plan should contain includes: Departure Airport, Arrival Airport, Alternate Airport, Fuel On-Board, ETA, Route, Altitude, Aircraft Type/Equipment Type, and any miscellaneous remarks.

Departure Airport, Arrival Airport, and Alternate Airport

When filing a Flight Plan, three of the most important parts for the controller are departure airport, alternate airport, and arrival airport. These three are important because with out them, the controller won't be able to know where you are going.

Once you find a flight (we will use Baltimore-Washington Int'l Airport to Atlanta Hartsfield Airport during this lesson), the first thing to do while filing a Flight Plan is to place the departure airport in the spot where it says "Depature ICAO". Your departure "ICAO", or airport code, will be KBWI. After that, you will need to type in your arrival airport where it says "Arrival ICAO". This will be KATL. The alternate airport is an airport, usally within 100 miles from your destination, in which you can go to in case of problems including weather or emergencies at your destination airport. We will use KBHM (Birmingham) for this flight.

Fuel On-Board

Another important part to your IFR Flight Plan is your fuel on-board. You list this amount in hours & minutes, NOT lbs, kgs, or any other weighing method. You can find your Fuel On-Board multiples ways, usually using payware programs or aircraft. Our Fuel On-Board for our flight to Atlanta is 3:12.


ETA, or Estimated Time of Arrival, is another crucial part of your Flight Plan. This is the distance (in time) from your departure airport to your arrival airport. This can generally be found on various websites, including FlightAware∞. Our ETA to ATL is 1:22.



A major part of your Flight Plan is your route. A route contains VORs (very high frequency omini-directional ranges), waypoints/fixes, and other navaids used to arrive at your destination. These are created to assist the Air Traffic Controller in remaining organized. Our Flight Plan for our flight to BWI-ATL will look like this: TERPZ1 FLUKY DCA246 PAUKI MOL WHINZ1

But What Does This Mean?

TERPZ1 is a departure procedure, or "DP" (also referred to as SIDs). This inparticular procedure is called "RNAV". Many aircraft can not fly this type of procedure, so becareful when filing for it! With in that DP, there are many waypoints as well as altitude and speed restictions. You fly over these waypoints just like you would a normal waypoint. You will fly this DP until FLUKY intersection, and then procede on the rest of your route. After FLUKY, you see DCA246. DCA246 refers to the Washington 246 radial outbound to PAUKI. All this means is that you have to join the 246 radial or track off of the DCA VOR and take that 246 heading to PAUKI intersection. After PAUKI you see MOL ("Montebello") VOR. This is the beginning, or transition to the WHINZ1 arrival procedure, or STAR. STARs, or Standard Terminal Arrivals, are similar to DPs in the fact that they contain many waypoint in which you must fly over. Now, even though there are no airways in this Flight Plan, airways work very similar. Airways are basically lines that connect you from one fix to another. Basic airways are "J" and "Victor" airways. A "J" airway are high (above FL180) airways. These will be shown as a letter and two or three numbers after the J. "Victor" airways are low (below FL180) airways. These will be shown as V and two to three numbers after them.

Cruise Altitude

Your Cruise Altitude is the altitude that you will be cruising at. A general rule of thumb when filing for this altitude is if you are going west under FL410, you must file for even altitudes, and if you are going east under FL410, you must file for odd altitudes. Our cruise altitude to ATL will be FL400, or 40,000 feet.

Aircraft Type & Equipment Type

Your Aircraft Type is a four letter code that tells the controller what kind of airplane you are flying. Some examples are B737, B712, B744, A319, C172, etc. The equipment type or equipment suffix is /and a letter. Examples are /Q, /W, /A, /C, /G etc. A list of aircraft types and suffix codes can be found on the various FAA documents. We are flying a B737/Q, or Boeing 737-700 with a /Q suffix (RVSM, RNAV, RNP), to Atlanta.


The final section of your Flight Plan is your remarks section. This is where you put any remarks that the controllers need to see.

Some sites that may be of further assistance are FlightAware∞, MyAirplane∞, AirNav∞, and VATSIM∞.