Navigation Flying


Navigation  best practice has recently come under the spotlight due to continuing airspace infringements and poor radio telephony (R/T) skills.

Various organisations such as GASCo, AOPA and NATS have initiatives to help alleviate this problem aimed at pilots, students and instructors.

Here at Easy PPL, in conjunction with the Easy PPL Navigation Flight Log, we have consolidated into one place below what we consider to be best practice when Navigation Flying.

We don't just tell you the best practices we teach, but also the reasonings behind those practices. We believe that if you understand the reasoning, you'll be more likely to both remember and use those practices in your everyday flight planning.

If you are unfamiliar with any of the terms or techniques described below, we suggest you might like to take a look at the Easy PPL Ground School Navigation Course where you will learn much more. This and other courses can be found at Easy PPL Ground School.


To obtain more information, click on one of the headings below, or to expand/collapse all headings, click

Human Factors

We are all human, and consequently, we are all fallible.

Designing a system that helps prevent errors in the first place is a key part of infringement avoidance and inherently increases safety.

One of the key factors is the quality of the Navigation Flight Log in use, and its design in the areas of prevention of mistakes by the pilot.

Time and again, many infringements occur where one of the factors is a case of mis-interpretation of the Navigation Flight Log.

For this reason a Flight Log should separate the navigation calculation figures from the actual heading and times to fly - just like the Easy PPL Navigation Flight Log does.

Our top tip, is that whatever Flight Log you use, ensure you don't fall into a trap of looking at the wrong figure and flying that as the heading.


Time is Important

The planned time on each leg is an essential piece of information that is often the first to go by the wayside in navigational flight.

Here's a few golden rules to help not miss the next waypoint!

  • Ensure to note the "Set Course" time on the Flight Log (many logs don't event prompt for this)
  • Having performed some other initial checks (see the other headings to this best practice page), be sure to calculate the next waypoint  Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA), and an ETA for an interim point (such as half-way)
  • 2 minutes before that ETA, start looking ahead of the aircraft for the waypoint
  • At the ETA, if the waypoint is not seen, do not blindly carry on, but try to gain a position fix. Remember that often, if your planning has been good, it may be the waypoint is hidden under the nose. Perform a turn to the left to gain the best view from the pilots perspective to establish ground features
  • At the waypoint, note the Actual Time of Arrival (ATA) on the log. If this is an interim waypoint, adjust your next calculated waypoint ETA accordingly (e.g. if 1 minute late for the half-way point, then 2 minutes will need to be added to the next waypoint ETA)

Set Course and Turning Point Actions

Once the initial Set Course heading is being flown, or immediately after changing heading at a waypoint, the following actions should be performed.
  • Note down the time the new heading was established
  • Perform a gross error check on the selected heading. Use large ground features such as "sea-side to the right and large town on the left" to determine this
  • Perform a FREDA check, with an emphasis of aligning the Direction Indicator (DI) with the magnetic compass - whilst in unaccelerated, straight and level flight
  • Calculate the next ETA based on your set course time and the planned estimated time for the next leg
  • Make radio calls as appropriate

Remember: Aviate, Navigate, Communicate. In that order.


Error Correction

If it is established that an error has occurred, and the current position is off course, a simple method of error correction should be used.

We recommend the "Standard Closing Angle" for its simplicity.

For example, a simplified version of the standard closing angle method of course correction is to fly a set heading correction (based on the aircraft TAS) for the same amount of time in minutes, as the aircraft is off track in nautical miles. i.e. For an aircraft with a TAS of  90kt, and being off course 5nm to the right, a turn to the left of 40o (the Standard Closing Angle) should be made, and held, for 5 minutes. The 40o change of heading is always the same for an aircraft with a TAS of 90kt.

For more details, including how to calculate the Standard Closing Angle for aircraft that operate at different True Airspeeds, we recommend learning more from the Easy PPL Ground School Navigation Course. This and other courses can be found at Easy PPL Ground School.


Plan Ahead

Think and plan ahead as far as possible.
  • Select the next radio frequency before the need to use it
  • Use the second radio (COM2) if you have it, to listen to the ATIS whilst also listening to the current ATC frequency
  • Plan circuit joining procedures early
  • Inform others to publicise your intentions and increase everyones situational awareness

For more tips and techniques on communications, see the Easy PPL Ground School Communication Course. Full details on this and other courses can be found at Easy PPL Ground School.


Fuel Management

Many Navigation Flight Logs have little in the way of in-flight fuel management assistance.

Regular checks on fuel quantities and time should be made as part and parcel of the navigation flight procedures.

In our opinion, one of the key principles of fuel management is to manage the fuel in the unit that is most appropriate. That unit is TIME.

The pilot does not need an increased workload in calculating how much time is remaining for a given quantity of fuel and a given fuel burn, especially when that calculation is having to be made under pressure, such as during a bad weather divert.

So, keep it simple. Manage the fuel in units of time, not gallons or litres.

The Easy PPL Navigation Flight Log allows this type of fuel management to occur naturally, with prompts for the pilot to enter the time remaining in two boxes - one for the left tank, one for the right tank. After every 30 minutes, tanks are changed, and the time remaining is decremented. The remaining fuel endurance is simply a matter of adding up the minutes in the "time remaining" boxes on the navigation flight log.

One other thing. When changing tanks, do so every 30 minutes. We recommend as a best practice that the easy way to do this is to use the right tank when the minute hand of the current time is between 0 and 30 minutes, then swap tanks, and use the left hand tank when the minute hand of the current time is between 30 and 59 minutes.