• Review: Professional Flight Planner X

    There's a catch when it comes to trans-oceanic flights. The routing algorithm doesn't pick an oceanic track on its own. Rather, it'll have you fly pretty much the direct great circle over the ocean referred to as a 'random route' in the real world. This is okay if you're crossing the ocean during a time window for which no oceanic tracks are valid or if you're flying along a path that doesn't have any tracks available. But for the sake of realism and efficiency, if you are crossing the pond during the period NATs are available and valid, you should use them. This is especially true when flying eastwards over the Atlantic. You're much better off riding the jetstream using a NAT than taking the seemingly shorter great circle route. I'll talk more about oceanic track messages and ETOPS later in the review. Know that these auto-generated routes won't hamper your hopes of uneventful oceanic crossings. If it's true realism and efficiency you seek, however, you'll need to proactively intervene in the routing process.

    PFPX     PFPX

    A really neat routing feature in PFPX is the ability to re-dispatch a flight mid-air. What this means is that instead of planning for your flight all the way to your destination, you'll plan till some airport that this a relatively short distance from the actual destination. You'll also select a fix called the re-dispatch fix. A short time before getting to your re-dispatch fix, you'll determine if you have enough fuel to safely continue from the re-dispatch fix to the intended destination. If yes, then the going's good. Else, divert to the re-dispatch airport. Why on earth would a flight crew and a dispatcher put themselves through the hassle of an en-route re-dispatch? Fuel savings and/or higher payload capacity is the answer. The aircraft can legally get by by carrying only enough reserve fuel for the portion of the route from the re-dispatch fix to the destination airport. The advantages for flights with an en-route re-dispatch are realized when the route is sufficiently long enough. It's great that PFPX allows for this kind of planning. The OFP (spoken of later in the review) is going to look different for a flight with a planned re-dispatch and indeed it does in PFPX too. PFPX can automatically compute a re-dispatch in your route or you can manually take care of it too. En-route you can fire up PFPX again to re-release your flight plan from the dispatch fix to the destination airport. This is a great feature to have. Hats off to the development team for this one.

    Life isn't sunshine and rainbows all the time. And since human beings are still flying planes, that's true in the aviation sphere of things too. There are a multitude of reasons you can't land at your planned destination airport. Which is why there's alternate fuel and to burn that fuel, an alternate airport to fly to. While planning out your flight, PFPX can find about four alternate airports for your destination. And it can even find routes to those airport. You can plan your flight with two alternates too. Of course, manually selecting alternates and routes to them is also possible. You will probably go for the manual routing option here a lot because most of the time PFPX chooses a rather unsatisfactory route having you fly some SID from your destination and a STAR at your alternate from an awkward angle. Interestingly, the tool can also account for a takeoff alternate and a point-of-no-return alternate.

    PFPX     PFPX

    Well now that brings us to ETOPS: Extended-Range Twin-Engine Operational Performance Standards. It's no longer called ETOPS, however. It's called EDTO: Extended-Range Diversion Time Operations. In the FAA sphere of things, however, you're free to continue calling it ETOPS. This is a complex topic when viewed holistically but there's a simple way to explain it. EDTO is a certification that allows an aircraft to operate in areas where it is greater than 60 minutes of single engine flying time away from an adequate alternate airport. Dear pedantics, yes, that's not a perfect definition but it gets the point across. So if your shiny virtual 777 is ETOPS-180 certified then what it means is that it can fly anywhere in the virtual world as long it is no greater than three hours of single engine flying time away from an adequate alternate airport. Of course there's a lot more at play here because there are different 'scenarios' to consider when planning for flights in ETOPS zones. Scenarios like engine out, decompression, etc. PFPX allows you to plan flights in ETOPS zones and ships with profiles and scenarios for some twin engine aircraft. The tool does the job of figuring out which portions of your planned route are ETOPS segments, i.e., more than 60 minutes of single engine flying time away from a suitable alternate airport. Based on your ETOPS policy, it'll also figure out en route adequate airports and include information about en-route diversions to them in your final dispatch paperwork. ETOPS entry and exit points along with adequate airport circles will be visible on the map too. This feature is really well done. Hats off to the developers for this one.

    PFPX     PFPX

    If you're a keen observer, then you remember a 'flow' I spoke of many paragraphs ago. And you now probably realized that I went over the core functional features of PFPX in the order of that flow. After doing each part of the flow, all the information supplied, deduced and gathered needs to be consolidated into a set of papers you know as dispatch papers and will now know as an OFP: operational flight plan. A click of a button is all that's needed to compute and generate an OFP once everything's done. Here's where you get a chance to review everything one last time and if it's all good, release the flight plan for printing and hand over to the virtual flight crew. Apart from the OFP, a set of tabs will let you analyze everything from a fuel summary, weather, NOTAMS, track messages and any warnings about your plan. There's also a few charts that give a good visual representation of your planned vertical profile and approach area, among other things.

    The most important document you'll review before releasing a plan is the OFP. The virtual OFP looks very much like a real life one. The layout of an OFP varies from operator to operator and PFPX allows third party templates to be used to generate an OFP. By default two templates are available and there are a lot more available from the downloads section of the Aerosoft Forums. This is a great feature because some real world airline templates are available for download too. Regardless of the template you use, the OFP will contain information about your payload, fuel, route, alternates, EDTO related data, route waypoint information, and weather information such as climb, cruise and descent forecasts. The default templates work great and are quite realistic looking. This is important as this is the document you'll use in the flight deck when cross referencing fuel calculations and FMS data entries.

    PFPX     PFPX

    Before we proceed further, I think it's important that I elaborate on the role of the PFPX server subscription in the planning process. Aside from weather and winds aloft data, a subscription gets you up-to-date terminal area forecasts along with METARS, up-to-date oceanic track data and messages, and NOTAMS. If you plug in a third party weather engine into PFPX, you'll probably still get METARS and weather data (including winds aloft). What I'm not sure of is if TAFs will still be available along with the capability to show the variance of winds aloft over a period of time through an overlay animation on the map. NOTAMS are real world ones and are available for most parts of the world. They're incredibly detailed and a menu option can be used to regulate how detailed they can get. You're unlikely to use this in the simulation world unless you are an embodiment of the an 'as real as it gets' believer.

    Tags: aerosoft, pfpx

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