• Review: Professional Flight Planner X

    Are you a TOPCAT user? Well then you'll be happy to know that PFPX can interface with TOPCAT too. You can assign a 'TOPCAT module' to the aircraft that you will plan your virtual flights with and once you're done planning, a click of a button will send all required input data for performance calculations to the TOPCAT window. Or, you can leave that be and let PFPX take care of this in the background and insert the results directly into your dispatch papers. I don't own TOPCAT but I did some research and it seems this tool hasn't been worked on for quite a while now and certain forum posts suggest that it won't be actively worked on anymore.

    PFPX     PFPX

    And now let's look at everything else in PFPX. Right from the time we started going to school, our lives have been governed by schedules. Flight operations in the real world are heavily time bound which mandates the need for flight schedules. Being a flight planning tool, PFPX allows you to do just that with the schedule editor. You can schedule virtual flights by providing a minimum amount of planning data. Then, when the time comes, pick out one of them, plan it and fly it! The tool allows for repetitive flights to be scheduled at desired intervals and wow, you can even cancel a scheduled flight to annoy virtual passengers. What's really neat is that if you fly for a virtual airline that supports scheduling via PFPX, then you can log in and download their flight schedule to PFPX.

    Maybe you're excited about scheduling and flying virtual flights like a real airline pilot. Regardless, you'll need performance data for the aircraft that you intend to fly. Out of the box, PFPX offers 'profiles' for a plethora of popular airliners such the 737 series, the A320 family, the venerable 757/767 , the 777, the 747, the E-Jets, and so many more. Also included are templates built using these profiles that have been tailored to the particulars of popular add-ons from developers like PMDG, iFly and Aerosoft. Using these profiles and templates, you can maintain your own database of aircraft for your virtual flights.

    Each aircraft can be customized to uniquely identify it based on airline, seating configuration and more. There's so much that can be customized pertaining to, but not limited to, weights, fuel, payload, diversion constraints, ETOPS scenarios and on board equipment specification. Take a look at the screen shots to see what I mean. I can have a 737 with two separate configurations because through the day, I haul passengers and through the night, freight by having all the seats removed. Airlines in the real world do this and this is why different configurations for the same aircraft are allowed in PFPX. As an aircraft ages, it becomes less efficient and let's face it, aircraft of the same type in the real world age differently depending on where they're flying and how much they're flying. To account for the implications of this, flight dispatchers in the real world can add a 'bias' for performance parameters, collected using in-flight data recordings, so that planning accuracy is always spot on. PFPX simulates this too!

    PFPX     PFPX

    You might've noticed through the screen shots that a number of editable fields for performance parameters for aircraft profiles are left empty. Worry not as most of the important editable parameters are pre-populated. It's difficult to get all of this data for the simulation world and I observed that it doesn't impact accuracy or reliability of PFPX all that much. Most of the default profiles and templates have their numbers more or less spot on and the average flight simulation user will find them to be perfect out of the box. In case you are a die hard realism seeking pedantic, you have the power to edit them. Also, if you're missing some aircraft profile or if you can't get to grips with the default ones, then head over to the downloads section of the Aerosoft forums to find a plethora of user contributed aircraft templates and profiles.

    There's a 'flow' in the flight planning process as there is a 'flow' in a textbook cockpit preparation procedure. In PFPX that flow is going to be in this order: aircraft setup, schedule setup, payload setup, fuel setup, route setup, alternate setup, ETOPS setup, computation, and publication. We've looked at aircraft and schedule setup. Payload setup is probably the simplest step in the flow. Choose the number of adults, children and infants along with the weight of their baggage and anything else that will go into the cargo holds. Ferrying an aircraft or feeling random or want to simulate a fully loaded 777 long haul flight? Zero, random and max payload - there's buttons for all of them. I hear that airlines often assume one adult passenger to represent 84 kilograms of weight. Weights like these are configurable in PFPX via the options menu. And you get to configure them for each type of flight: scheduled, non-scheduled, military and others. This is an important feature. After all, 150 buff marines are going to weigh a lot more than 150 civilians.

    PFPX     PFPX

    Depending on where your (virtual) airline is registered and where you are operating, there's a number of different fuel policies to choose from. These fuel policies are exactly what are found and used in the real world. Each is different in one way or the other from the others and most of the time, this difference is in the reserve fuel policy. There are a number of fields here that you can fill out to add extra fuel such as contingency fuel, holding fuel, tankering fuel, ballast fuel, extra fuel for dispatch under MEL, and more. This is great as it allows so much flexibility and enables a lot of realism when planning fuel. For example, if I'm flying to an airport that charges for fuel way more than my origin airport, I can add fuel for the return flight as 'tankering fuel'. Need some extra fuel in the tanks of the Concorde or MD-11 to balance the plane? Add it as ballast fuel.

    The most important aspect of fuel planning is of course accuracy. I'd like to get it out there that out of the box, the default PFPX aircraft profiles and fuel policies work really well. Most of the time I found that my virtual fuel consumption was accurate to within a few 100 kilograms of what PFPX calculated. There are some caveats here. You'll see such accurate results only if a few criteria are met. First is of course, either your aircraft is realistic or the profile for your aircraft is specifically tailored for it. Next is that the conditions under which you plan your flight will actually turn out to be the conditions you will experience in your simulator. And lastly, the performance parameters that you plan your flight with in PFPX should be the same as the parameters you give your aircraft's FMS: read things like cost index, etc. If this kind of harmony exists, then your fuel numbers will be pretty accurate. With the default 737-800 profile and using the excellent Zibo 737 for X-Plane, I found my fuel consumption to be accurate to 100 kilograms on many flights.

    PFPX     PFPX

    To burn that fuel, you'll need a route. And if you can't give one to PFPX, it can find one for you. There's probably more than an algorithm or two at work in the background. Regardless, PFPX can find a route to suit your requirements whether you want a route that's high altitude, low altitude, via certain waypoints, not via certain waypoints, and the like. Much like the aircraft database, there's a route database allowing you to store your own routes or pick one from the 9000 real world ones that come with the product. Now that we're on the subject of routing, it's important to point out that yes, there is navigational data at play here. Which means that for a realistic and integral experience, you'll need the latest navigational data at hand. That data, as usual, can come from either Navigraph or Aerosoft themselves. I used PFPX with Aerosoft's NavDataPro. By default, however, AIRAC cycle 1302 data from Aerosoft is bundled with the product. Each time you update your navigational data, you'll have to have your previously stored routes checked for compliance to the new navigational data. Here is where I found that out of the 9000 real world routes that come with PFPX, only 4000 will end up being compliant to the latest AIRAC cycle data at the time of writing this (cycle 1901).

    Routing isn't so straightforward in the real world as it is in the simulator. There's rules and regulations in the form of routing constraints and altitude caps to follow. No red faced regulatory enforcer is going to come breathing down your neck if you bust a restriction or two in the simulation world. Even then, wouldn't it be nice (or rather would you be nice enough) to follow such restrictions when planning your virtual routes? PFPX can account for these restrictions when planning out your routes. You'll need to go an extra mile, however, and download some files from the Aerosoft forums download section if you want to have this data available for the software to use. If you notice that certain segments of your planned route have you climb or descend to a particular altitude just for that segment, then it's happening because PFPX is accounting for route restrictions and altitude caps.

    PFPX     PFPX

    PFPX can generate routes that are biased to realize some savings goal such as time, distance, fuel or cost. If you don't like the generated route, you could of course force it to use your own route or alter portions of the generated route. Some of the reasons you may not like a generated route is that PFPX might select a runway that is usually not used for takeoff/landing and/or selects the wrong SID/STAR for the runway. Occasionally, a STAR wouldn't be automatically selected at all. Remember that at the end of the day, it's a computer program that's trying to do this for you and it can't think for itself. Generated routes will rarely match up with real world flight plans or what you see on web sites like FlightAware. Nevertheless, the generated routes are great most of the time especially for long/ultra-long haul flights.

    Tags: aerosoft, pfpx

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