You must file a flight plan for:
- IFR flights in controlled airspace
- Any flight to or from the UK that will cross the UK FIR boundary. Note that the Channel Islands is in the French FIR, so a flight plan is mandatory.
- Any flight ORIGINATING from a UK aerodrome, where the destination is more than 40km away AND the MTOW exceeds 5700 kg.
- Any flight in class F airspace wishing to participate in an Air Traffic Advisory Service.
It is also advisable to file a flight plan if the flight involves flying:
- Over the sea, more than 10 nm from the UK coastline;
- Over sparsely populated areas where search and rescue operations would be difficult
- Into an area in where search and rescue operations are in progress
Flight plans should be filed at least 1 hour before EOBT.
Further details are available in the UK AIP ENR 1.10. You may also be interested in the article Flying Abroad.
Filing your Flight Plan
Across the UK and Europe, the rules for VFR flight plan addressing is often very complicated and vary from country to country, by destination and departure locations. The same route flown in reverse may even need to be addressed differently! For IFR flight plans there is the complexity of hundreds of standard routes, temporary restrictions and conditional routes which all need to be considered in order to create a route that is accepted by Eurocontrol.
It is therefore highly recommended that you file a flight plan electronically. Commonly used tools such as NATS AFPEx or other route planning software have been designed to create acceptable routes and automatically address and file to the appropriate units very quickly, saving lots of time.
If a computer is not available you can try the Aerodrome Reporting Office (ARO) at the airport. NOTE: This process can take an hour or more - while you locate the right office and wait while a human operator manually addresses and files your flight plan for you. You can click here to download and print a blank ICAO Flight Plan form. For a searchable database of ICAO Aircraft Type Designators click here. The requirements for addressing flight plan messages can be found in each national AIP under ENR 1.11. You'll need to refer to each country's AIP for your entire route.
If there is no ARO, you may fax the form to the London Area Control Centre at Swanwick on 01489 612793 and contact their 24-hour help desk on 01489 612 792.
Full guidance for submitting a flight plan is available in CAP 694, The UK Flight Planning Guide.
Activating your Flight Plan
If you are departing from a non-ATC aerodrome you will need to ask for your flight plan to be activated. An A/G or AFISO aerodrome may already have the facility to do this, but they may not. If they don't this can be done via telephone on 01489 612 792, or after you are airborne, contact your nearest LARS or FIS unit, or nearest aerodrome with ATC.
IFR (in controlled airspace) departure at VFR aerodromes - If you would like to pick up a provisional clearance and squawk code prior to takeoff from a VFR aerodrome in IMC conditions, the following numbers can be contacted after you have filed your flight plan:
London TC Group Supervisor Airports: 023 8040 1106
London TC Watch Supervisor: 023 8040 1100 or 023 8040 1110 (assistant)
London AC Watch Supervisor: 01489 612440 or 01489 612420
Scottish AC Watch Supervisor: 01292 692 763 or 01292 692 842
A change message (CHG) should be sent if there are changes to your flight, such as aircraft type, speed, level, or route. However any changes to callsign, point of departure and/or destination will require the original flight plan to be cancelled and a new one submitted.
This can be done using the computer software above via the Internet and/or mobile phone.
A delay message (DLA) should be sent if your estimated off-block time (EOBT) is more than
- 30 minutes late for an IFR flights in controlled airspace, or
- 60 minutes late for everything else
This can be done by contacting the departure aerodrome ATSU (if present), or using the computer software above via the Internet and/or mobile phone.
Similarly, should the flight be cancelled for any reason, a cancellation message (CNL) message should be sent.