Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Planning A Long Cross-Country

As the old chestnut proclaims: prior planning prevents poor performance

When picking intermediate airports to refuel, you can use one of the airport information websites (like or apps like ForeFlight) to find the best fuel prices. Often, smaller airports will have better fuel prices than larger airports. I've seen almost a $3 difference in 100LL at airports located fairly close together, so if you want to be fiscally responsible, plan ahead.

One trick to remember when picking a refueling stop is to choose one that's located at a higher elevation if possible. That means you'll spend less time descending and correspondingly less time and fuel climbing back to altitude for the next leg. Do keep the airport's density altitude and runway length in mind, particularly if your aircraft will be operating near the edge of its performance envelope.

If you fly in the Western U.S. or in mountainous terrain, pay particular attention to MEAs. Sometimes, you can find more than one airway that goes to the same place. One airway may have a much higher MEA than the other, while the airway with the lower MEA is often the longer routing. That lower routing might keep your aircraft out of icing or turbulence or at altitudes that your engine, not to mention passengers, will find more comfortable. Pick the airway that's appropriate for the weather, the aircraft and your passengers.

Speaking of passengers, keep their comfort in mind. Even if it's possible to fly nonstop, it might be easier on your passengers if the trip was broken into multiple legs. On a recent trip, my first leg was 4.5 hours followed by a five-hour leg. For the return trip into the expected headwind, I added an additional stop, and the legs ended up being 3.6, 3.3, and 3.3 hours. The shorter legs made for much happier passengers.

If your trip requires an overnight stop, it behooves you to make a hotel reservation before departing rather than trying to find lodging after arriving. Once again, you can use AirNav or an app like ForeFlight to review local accommodations. You might even call the destination's FBO and ask for recommendations. If you have to divert for, say, weather, the local FBO can usually recommend local accommodations and will sometimes provide an airport car or transportation.

Weather Or Not?
You'll be watching The Weather Channel and/or your other preferred weather services as the departure day gets closer. The day before, you'll want to get an "outlook" briefing for the full trip. You can accomplish that through a briefer or through one of the Internet weather-briefing options. The easiest way to get a full-route briefing is to ask for an outlook briefing for a combination of all the legs—essentially, you'll request weather for a nonstop flight. Combine the routes, airways and waypoints for all of the legs, total the flight and ground times for the full trip to indicate the total en route time and get a full briefing. Then, check for forecast weather at your planned refueling stops. It's a good day-before overview, and it saves you from having to do individual briefings for each leg.

Consider getting an overall briefing, filing all flight plans the night before and then getting a weather briefing at each stop or the next leg. If you need to change any of your flight plans (e.g. a departure has been delayed) and you filed through one of the services such as DUATS, your flight plan won't be available for modification by an FSS or ATC until the provider sends it to Center's computer. Filing all flight plans through an FSS might provide greater flexibility for multi-stop trips.


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