I have been using Jeppesen FliteStar for about ten years for my VFR and, later, IFR flight planning. It takes a bit of learning but it is a powerful tool for flight planning and viewing instrument approach plates.
However, there are two big problems with it. First, it is hellaciously expensive. For VFR and IFR planning with digital IFR and VFR plates for Europe, it was costing me around €1,800 a year. Even in the context of an expensive hobby, that’s a lot of money. Bill Gates thinks that’s a lot of money.
Second, their billing is so obscure and their accounts department so incredibly unhelpful that it is impossible to change plans or figure out what, exactly, you are paying for. Or at least, that was my experience. For example, when I changed plans last year (it took three months to do this), they kept sending me an invoice even though they actually owed me money.
As a side issue, I was using Homebriefing.com to actually file my flight plans. I can’t get my head around AFPEx (even though I work with computers all day). Also, it doesn’t work on my iPhone which makes it useless if I’m abroad. Homebriefing is great and they have helpful people at the end of the phone to sort out problems but for an infrequent user, it feels like you have to hand over money every time you log on. Either my annual subscription has expired or I have run out of coupons for flight plans. Arghh.
So what am I using now? I looked at a few things but here is my plan from now on:
VFR Flight Planning
I’m going to use SkyDemon. It’s easier to use than Jeppesen, integrates NOTAMs and weather to produce a lovely trip kit and really attractive maps that filter out information you don’t need (e.g. airspace above your planned cruising altitude). It includes charts for most of Europe and they look very clean and easy to use.
It feels like a simple, quick, efficient way to pull together everything you need for a VFR flight without wasting time or hopping between programs. It costs £119. You can (optionally) renew your subscription to charts etc. for £59 a year after the first year.
IFR Flight Planning
I’m going to check out RocketRoute. It combines IFR route planning with plates and online filing for flight plans. It is like a combination of the functional bits of Flitestar, Jeppview and Homebriefing.
Jeppesen’s tool for automatically planning an IFR airways trip never really worked very well and I often ended up refining them manually. This is why I really like RocketRoute’s AutoRouter. It produces valid routes between airfields quickly and then automatically validates them with Eurocontrol (which Jeppesen did not do). I think I’ll need to buy Jeppesen paper airways charts in case it generates routes that don’t work for my circumstances but that’s not a big expense – £10 a year or something. Once you have set up your aircraft, you can reuse them in flight plans cutting down on the amount of time it takes to file plans in future.
RocketRoute supplies two types of plates: Pooleys iPlates which are the familiar VFR plates in electronic form. It also grabs the latest IFR plates from the various European AIPs. This is less satisfactory than using Jeppesen plates because they do not share a standard format from one country to the next. However, they are free, in English and usable. Since the planes I fly have glass cockpits with Jepp plates onboard, these printed plates are belt-and-braces (and a legal requirement).
Once you have filed your plan, you can download or fax a briefing pack with a plog, ICAO flight plan, METAR/TAFs, NOTAMs and plates. Print it out and away you go. It really couldn’t be much easier. I can also access it via my iPhone to send delay notices and change flight plan details overseas.
It costs €144 a year for up to 50 filed flight plans plus €35 for online access to Pooleys VFR plates. Trip support (e.g. telephone filing of flight plans, slot booking etc. costs €5-€35 depending on what you ask them to do. It would be useful to have this to fall back like a personal flight department.
Easier, faster, cheaper
So, I’ve ditched Jeppesen, saving €1800 a year and picked up a VFR and an IFR flight planning system that costs me about €300-ish this year and a bit less next year. That’s a big saving and I think the end result is, actually, a better, more flexible system.