Flight planning question - STARs

I usually use Simbrief to do my flight planning. My understanding is that it is normal practice in the US to file a flight plan with a STAR, but how is one supposed to select the STAR? It is possible to know the conditions and active runways at the departure airport when planning, but the conditions at the arrival airport can change dramatically during the flight. That means it is fairly easy to select a SID, but it seems to be very hard to choose a STAR, since these are often linked to the arrival runway.

Secondary question … suppose I am flying to an airport with a navaid close by. For example, this evening I flew to KPDX and my final enroute fix was the BTG VOR. I then transitioned to the HHOOD.4 arrival, which took me 25NM away from the airport and back again. One mistake I made was selecting this turbojet STAR when flying my DA40 … but even with a jet I would prefer to avoid the additional 50NM. What is the proper solution here? Delete the BTG waypoint and proceed direct to the transition into the STAR perhaps?

More generally, what are the rules about filing direct plans? Now we have RNAV we don’t have to follow the Victor and Jet airways anymore, but presumably you can’t just file direct to anywhere, or it would be chaos! How to know what is allowable?

Anyone? Or was it too long for people to read?

Where to start… Yes it is possible to file a direct IFR flight plan but you will receive an approach for a runway when you get near the airport.

I recommend that if you are using SIDs, STARs, or approaches is to obtain the actual chart and go over them carefully during your preflight. Many STARs are for turbojets and airliners only and labeled as such. The waypoint heights and speeds are usually outside of GA aircraft.

The function of SIDS and STARs are to create virtual on-ramps and off-ramps for the “highways” in the sky. They organize traffic flow for controllers and somewhat keep airline traffic away from GA traffic. Also, major airports will have STARs covering four major directions used by arriving aircraft. Most of the STARs in the US will note at the exit waypoint “Expect vectors to…” a specific approach/runway. This is for ATC to route arriving traffic to an approach. Unfortunately, in MSFS the pilot has to request vectors. And watch carefully where they are vectoring the aircraft. Usually I’ll ask every five minutes for vectors if not yet established on the approach.

You are correct that pilots don’t know the exact weather at the arrival airport and weather conditions may be a lot different than forcast. A pilot should be prepared to fly the approach given by ATC or request a different one. This is why before glass cockpits, pilots would carry a suitcase full of paper charts in case of having a different approach or use an alternate airport.

It is possible to get weather and runway information from ATIS when you get near an airport. Also, if using AI traffic or Real World traffic, listen to the ATC approach/runway instructions given to the aircraft in front of you. Chances are you’ll get the same routing from ATC.

MSFS ATC has issues such as assigning a runway that has a tailwind… One thing I haven’t heard from ATC is the changing of the active runway(s) due to weather and wind changes. This is done IRL when a weather front with a strong wind shift goes by an airport.

1 Like

Thank you for your detailed answer :slight_smile: I do try to look at the actual charts (easy in the US since so many websites have them, much more difficult here in Canada without paying for them!) I do sometimes get lazy and just choose one of the recent ‘real world’ routes in Simbrief and check it looks OK on the map overview. Perhaps I should stop doing that.

So supposing I was flying IFR from CYYZ to KJFK. Back in the old days before RNAV, I would have selected a victor or jet airway or airways that get me from the YYZ VOR to some navaid near KJFK. That would give me an enroute sequence of VORs and airways. Then it would be fairly simple to choose a SID and a STAR because I basically have my transitions defined for me already by virtue of being confined to airways.

Flash forward to 2022, when I have RNAV and no need to follow airways. Could I just file direct from to the transition of a convenient STAR into JFK? How am I to know what kind of direct flight plans will be approved when I file them? If everyone could fly direct everywhere then the airways would no longer be a thing, but routing is not done that way in practice. In practice we all use route planners like Simbrief, but what the heck are the rules it is applying under the hood?

(One gripe I have in MSFS is requesting vectors to the airport. It should give a heading not an o’clock reference, because that can get confusing if you have recently turned. Also I want vectors to the IAF, not the airport!)

Another question. I flew today to KACV, which has no published STARs (just approaches.) ATC gave me RNAV 1 with the SEGVE transition. Instruction was “Cleared to SEGVE”. Am I supposed to continue ‘as filed’ to my final waypoint (basically over the airport) and then to SEGVE, or am I allowed to go direct SEGVE? On VATSIM I would ask, but I can’t ask the AI :wink:

1 Like

Another question. I flew today to KACV, which has no published STARs (just approaches.) ATC gave me RNAV 1 with the SEGVE transition. Instruction was “Cleared to SEGVE”. Am I supposed to continue ‘as filed’ to my final waypoint (basically over the airport) and then to SEGVE, or am I allowed to go direct SEGVE? On VATSIM I would ask, but I can’t ask the AI.

You are cleared to fly Direct to SEGVE, at current altitude. The issue with MSFS is the ATC lowered your altitude prior to that clearance. Can be an issue out west where we have granite clouds. :wink:

File direct and see if they let you fly it. MSFS seems to always give what I input (ignoring how bad the routing is.) In real world, busy airspace has general traffic flows, and you can always tell ATC ‘unfamiliar’ and they’ll walk you through it.

In the real world a STAR can be filed but changed by ATC enroute. It happens and when it does, the FMS has to be reprogrammed which is an easy fix. ATC usually gives direct to a fix on the new STAR or to a waypoint after the initially cleared route where the new STAR begins.

Keep in mind too that waypoints are also used to verify ETE / ETA as well as fuel consumption. Going direct makes it very difficult keep an eye on fuel.

Waypoints are used as checkpoints and to be sure you will be clear of terminal control areas and mountains, if flying GA aircraft.

If flying IFR, there is an ATC menu which has “1. Request vector to next waypoint.” ATC gives the heading to fly. This can be requested multiple times during a flight. When flying VFR and have contacted the tower, there is a menu item to ask for directions to the airport. The tower responds with directions based on a clock. (Don’t use with a digital clock!)

IRL flying IFR direct isn’t used because of the need for ATC to control traffic flow. For example, A pilot could file a flight plan from KPVD to KATL which is about 785 nm direct. But this would fly through the busiest airspace in the US and the most restricted flying over Washington DC. Depending on traffic, the ATC clearance will route the aircraft north of NYC and Washington D.C. adding 50 nm or more to the flight. We don’t have to worry about this in MSFS. ATC clearance is always “as filed”.

1 Like