Episode 25: Flight plans and SARTIME

There are enough good reasons to file a flight plan with Airservices and to get up to speed with how to do it correctly.

AIP ENR 1.10 Appendix 1 and 2 and the Visual Flight Rules Guide (VFRG) p 160-190 are both excellent resources. They cover using the Australian Domestic Flight Notification form and understanding every component.

When flying in controlled airspace, you are much more likely to avoid delays in your clearances if ATC has a flight plan from you.

If you are flying alone, make sure you file a plan, including the nomination of a SARTIME for many safety reasons.

At the very least, you should inform a responsible person of your:

  • flight route
  • expected ETA
  • description of your aircraft
  • contact details with specific instructions as to who to contact if that time passes without acknowledgment of your safe arrival.

Read VFRG Chapter 2, 'Flight Note' for more information.

Although coverage is improving, remote areas often don't offer the luxury of an internet connection. If accessing the National Aeronautical Information Processing System (NAIPS) website is how you normally lodge your flight plans, then you'd better have a plan B up your sleeve.

Phoning through your flight plan to the Briefing Office (1800 805 150) is perfectly acceptable.

But do your homework before your trip and practise reading off your plan from the official ICAO Flight Notification form.

Remember to pack a couple of blank forms. It's hard to remember the order of all those boxes and the required phonetic alphabet as you reel off your plan over the phone.

If you don't feel confident with this, then grab an instructor before you go and ask for a refresher.

Pilot sitting in stationary aircraft on mobile phone
Pilot sitting in stationary aircraft on mobile phone

Cancelling SARTIME

At the end of your VFR flight, use the phrase 'cancel SARTIME'. Other phrases such as 'cancel SAR' do not clearly distinguish between VFR and IFR flights.

Remember the different rules regarding cancelling your SARTIME. These include:

  • VFR at a controlled aerodrome: you cannot cancel your SARTIME with the tower. You must call CENSAR on 1800 814 931 to cancel.
  • VFR at a non-controlled aerodrome: call CENSAR to cancel.
  • IFR at a controlled aerodrome: your SARWATCH is terminated via ATC at your destination. No need to call CENSAR.
  • IFR at a non-controlled aerodrome: it is your responsibility to cancel SARWATCH by phone, radio or online.

For VFR flights, the ideal method of cancelling your SARTIME is by calling CENSAR on 1800 814 931.

But you may well come across a destination without phone coverage and therefore can't cancel your SARTIME when you land.

By the time you figure out that you have forgotten, you'll have to:

  • get yourself into 'town' (if there is one)
  • find a landline (good luck with that) or
  • find some mobile coverage (which there isn't).

If you've forgotten to cancel your SARTIME and are not contactable by CENSAR this is probably not going to end well for you. Especially if you're found exchanging pool shots with the locals at the public bar.

Set an alarm on your phone or whatever reminder system works for you for cancelling your SARTIME and make it part of your routine.

Bottom line is research phone coverage at every place you plan to land.

Know the answer before you lose contact with ATC whilst still airborne. When phone services are not going to be available on the ground, you don't have to wait until you have landed before cancelling your SARTIME.

As a special request, you may do so by radio, in or approaching the circuit, whilst still in contact with ATC. You may also relay through another pilot.

Last updated:
Online version available at: https://www.casa.gov.au//resources-and-education/education-and-training/out-n-back/episode-25-flight-plans-and-sartime
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