Flight plans, NOTAMs, loadsheets – What pilots have to know before take-off

To ensure that flights are safe and aircraft take off on schedule, accurate flight preparation is crucial. Pilots require precise information before take-off. We will show you what kind of data they need and where to get them.
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When flying the motto is “safety first!” Thus pilots and cabin crew require absolutely accurate information about everything from weatherdata to the weight of the aircraft even before take-off. Each airline has its own experts for this. At TUIfly they’re right next to Hanover Airport at the TUI Group Operation Center.
“150 aircraft of the TUI Group are coordinated here. We do the current flight planning on the basis of weather data and of news we get from the airports and about the aircraft themselves: status reports, weight calculations for the complete TUI GROUP. We implement our flight program every day as punctually as possible and of course safely to get our passengers from point A to point B.“
Huge amounts of data converge here. The information comes from weather services, travel agents and technical service providers.
For each flight a so-called dispatcher draws up an individual flight plan. Important data are the weather, the number of passengers and the flight route.
“The briefing package contains more than just the flight plan calculated by us. It includes current weather data like weather reports from airports which are important for us – our destination airports, of course, but also alternative airports and others along the flight path which we might have to use in an emergency. And then there are weather maps and so-called NOTAMS. That’s short for Notice to Airmen, a newspaper for pilots, so to speak.”
The dispatcher starts his calculations six hours before take-off. Ideally this only takes 15 minutes. If nothing unforeseen happens.
“In summer we get thunderstorms, in winter icing. And of course there are also strikes. In some countries flight control tends to strike quite often but luckily there’s not much of that going on right now. Terrorist and bomb threats seldomly occur but they can have a massive impact. There was once even a volcano eruption.”
Many factors can impair flight operations. But today everything seems calm.
“I’m doing the calculations for flight TUIfly 4321 from Hanover to Rhodos this afternoon. When the flight plan is finished it is ‘released’, which is to say it’s put into the system where it is automatically available online for the respective crew when checking in.”
One hour before take-off the crew meets for a joint briefing.
“To start with my co-pilot and I sift through the whole data package. We calculate the amount of fuel we’ll need for the first flight to Rhodos. What I mainly tell the passengers in the cabin is the flight time, if turbulences are to be expected and what the weather will be like at the destination airport.”
But the data still have quite a way to go.
“As soon as this data package is finished it gets saved on two USB sticks which are then taken to the cockpit and installed on the computers there so we have all the data available which the company has provided. Then we can retrieve the information there and process it if necessary.”
Until shortly before take-off, the number of passengers or baggage can change and with it the amount of required fuel so Captain Erler waits for the ramp agent.
“First I enter the cockpit and discuss with the pilot what to expect during the flight, how many passengers we will have, whether there are any specials such as wheelchairs or unaccompanied children on board. Then he tells me how much fuel to tank and we wait for the chief cabin attendant to finish preparations and give us the okay for boarding.”
The last briefing before take-off is the loadsheet. It declares the current mass of the aircraft and the distribution of the total cargo and is checked with the ramp agent. Then it’s:
“Cabin ready, aircraft refueled, ready for boarding.”
“Great, then let’s get started.”
“Thanks! Let’s go!”
Enjoy your flight to Rhodos.


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