Three top PC flight planning tools

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.

Map view from SkyDemon

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

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.

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7 Responses to Three top PC flight planning tools

  1. Daniel March 8, 2011 at 14:04 #

    You should take a look at EuroFPL, too.

    • Matthew Stibbe March 8, 2011 at 14:08 #

      I did look at that too briefly and it's a nice tool. I guess there was a slight initial preference for RocketRoute because I had used it a lot during its beta phase so it was already pretty familiar. I really like the way that it puts together briefing packs and plates for you. I just flew to Antwerp on Sunday using it 'in anger' for the first time and it worked very well. Matthew

  2. Daniel March 9, 2011 at 15:36 #

    EuroFPL also does briefings and plates for a filed route. Each to their own though! Planning is certainly getting a lot easier these days 🙂

  3. Travis Holland March 21, 2011 at 20:59 #

    Some other advantages to EuroFPL – for IFR they provide radar-based graphical flight following (a'la Flightaware.com in USA), and an SMS gateway to DLA your flight plan when you get stuck in traffic. EuroFPL also has nav-logs with winds aloft for super-accurate fuel burns and trip times like FliteStar.

    And it is free for up to 10 flight plan filings a month…

  4. Paul Platt March 8, 2012 at 11:59 #

    Wow, I can't believe the expense. Flitestar is essentially free for me after I pay the outrageous fees for the data in the plane. Still, I find I use ForeFlight for 98% of my flight planning. ForeFlight is easier for most flights and more convenient since it runs on my iPad. I feel fortunate to have so many affordable options like ForeFlight and WingX.

  5. Joseph A. Correia III June 19, 2017 at 12:45 #

    I am feeling that Jeppesen is trying to ditch the private pilot sector and concentrate on the commercial sector.More money there.But as far as this private pilot is concerned Jepp is just a big expensive zipp.I will be investing in SkyDemon a lot more service for the $.Jepp is just a money pit and has a far to casual attitude towards its private sector customer in actual practice.And as a flitestar user in 2017, I am basically high and dry unless I want to put $1,800 more into a dry well.

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