The Flight Planning CookbookAirfield Suitability
1. Decide on your route of flight. Pick a general route of flight from your point of origin to the destination. Start with a general route so that you can narrow down where you would like to stop along the way (if you are allowed to pick...) Force protection, weather, temperature, pressure altitude, and many other factors may influence your route of flight.
2. Pick locations to refuel and/or RON. Along this general route of flight, select several stops for refuel or RON (unless you plan to fly non-stop or aerial refuel enroute). Pay attention to length of each flight leg with respect to fuel on board (including reserves and divert fuel), crew duty day, and what time of the day you would like to arrive at each location.
3. Reference the IFR Enroute Supplement. Gather the appropriate information form the IFR Supp. Make sure you reference the airfield operating hours, restrictions, and runway / instrument approach information. Note the contact information for the airfield manager or Baseops, FBOs (if a civilian field), and PPR request information.
4. Reference the Airfield Suitability Reports. Refer to the Airfield Suitability Reports online to verify if the airfield can accept your aircraft. Is the airfield suitable to accept your type / weight of aircraft? Does the facility have government contract fuel? What are their hours of operation? What instrument approaches, departure procedures, climb gradients, are available (is your aircraft capable of flying these? How about with one engine out?) Are there any additional restrictions? (e.g. Defensive Systems required, day-only ops, VFR-only ops, no hot-cargo, MOG limits, etc.) You may wish to cross-reference the FLIP Low-Altitude Instrument Approach books for more information and to view the airfield diagram. Make sure you spend ample time doing a TERPS analysis for all destination and alternate airfields. If you plan on flying Host-Nation or Jeppessen approaches, you may need to plan for the appropriate authorities review your approaches and/or grant you a waiver.
5. Contact Baseops at the airfield. Once you have picked your locations and verified that your aircraft is capable and legal to land there, you must still request permission to land and refuel and / or RON. Contact Baseops and request a PPR (if required). The authorities in Baseops will want to know: your aircraft call sign, pax and cargo information, ETA in Zulu, servicing requirements, and ETD in Zulu. If you are arriving at a civilian field, contact the appropriate FBO with your arrival information. Don't forget to cross-reference the NOTAMs for the airfield.
Route of Flight
1. Decide on your route of flight. You may need to plan for more than one route based on possible weather, cargo, contingency scenarios (e.g. Atlantic / Pacific Ocean Crossings). When picking landing stops for refuel / RON, make sure you account for airfield suitability, hours of operation, servicing requirements, instrument approaches available, departure procedures, force protection, etc.
2. Generate an actual route of flight. Use FLIP Enroute Charts and/or PFPS software. Make note of the FIR Boundary (Flight Information Region) Crossings; keep an eye out for Special Use Airspace (SUAS), Restricted Areas, etc. Remember, foreign countries do not necessarily have their transition level at FL180 like in the USA. Many international routes have minimum altitudes that your aircraft may not be able to meet (i.e. C-130-type aircraft). For over flight of mountainous terrain, don't forget to figure out your engine-out service ceiling. If flying in the European Air Traffic Control system, you should reference the Route Availability Document (RAD). This site gives you information how your routes get formed/approved in Eurocontrol airspace.
3. List all Overflight Countries and Landing Countries. Tabulate a list of all countries whose airspace you will transit (FIR boundaries extend well beyond the 12-mile international borders) and all countries where you will actually land.
4. Reference the Foreign Clearance Guide. Refer to the Foreign Clearance Guide to verify the "Aircraft Entrance Requirements". Look up each country that you are overflying or landing at and find out their requirements. Specifically look for their Diplomatic Clearance requirements. Certain countries may not even allow US Military aircraft to overfly, or to land, or to RON. Be thorough! Furthermore, depending on your cargo (HAZMAT, Ammunition, etc.) certain countries have further restrictions. Some NATO and allied countries do not specifically require an official Diplomatic Clearance request -- instead they have granted "Blanket Clearance". If your aircraft and situation qualify, then you may simply use their Blanket Clearance - ensure you reference this on your DD-1801 International Flight Plan.
At this point you should have been able to verify whether or not all the countries in your route of flight will allow you overflight and/or landing clearance. If so, continue to #5, if not, plan a new route of flight.
5. Generate a timeline. If possible, create a winded flight plan. If you have not already done so, insert your route of flight into PFPS to generate a flight plan (and Form-70). Insert your actual takeoff time in the first time-block and calculate the rest of the times. Now you have an accurate timeline. Always use Zulu-hour as your reference when creating your Diplomatic Clearance Request messages. Note all takeoff, landing, and FIR Boundary entry and exit point times (in Zulu) for all stops from departure point all the way to final destination. Don't forget to account for refueling, cargo uploading delays, and RONs.
6. Generate a Diplomatic Clearance Request Message. Insert this timeline into the Diplomatic Clearance Request message using the standard 6-paragraph format found in the Foreign Clearance Guide. Be thorough and complete - each country's Aircraft Entrance Requirements section details their specific required data. Certain countries demand more information than others.
7. Send the Diplomatic Clearance Message. Most countries will now allow you to email your message (in the appropriate 6-paragraph format) directly to the appropriate agencies. A few locations (Portugal, Azores) require a DMS Message. Your POC in most countries will be the Air Attaché in the Defense Attaché's Office (DAO) at the American Embassy in that country. Email is the method we prefer because it is easy to use and easy to verify receipt. If you have questions, the easiest thing to do is call the DAO at that American Embassy. Once you receive acknowledgement and reply, you are finished! Make sure you insert the Diplomatic Clearance number into your DD-1801 International Flight Plan.