Advanced Pilot Programs

International Flying

by Ed Ward, Jr.

Last Updated: March 14, 2006

International Flights...An Introduction to the North Atlantic Tracks using SquawkBox with the Voice option.

Hello, glad to have you aboard. I am going to explain, in layman’s terms, high altitude international airline flying to and from Europe leaving out of JFK or BOS using, Squawkbox with Voice and an introduction to the "Nat Track"system. Both of my hubs are located next to the Atlantic Ocean. With this in mind both are likely overseas international departure and arrival airports for my pilots. In order to do this exercise; I would highly recommend buying the North Atlantic Plotting chart available from Jeppesen (1-800-621-JEPP). This chart costs $3.00 US and you don’t have to be a Jeppesen subscriber to order it. I consider this chart to be indispensable for your international flights so pick up the phone and order it today. OK, you got your chart let’s proceed.

Let me give you an overview of the scenario. We are going to perform a flight from either JFK or BOS to EGLL (Heathrow, UK). We are going to be flying the "North Atlantic Routes" (NARs) and our flight, across the "pond", will be flown in airspace designated as "Minimum Performance Navigation Specification" (MPNS) using the "North Atlantic Tracks" (NATs). We can expect "Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum " (RVSM) on our route of flight which means that there could only be 1000 feet separation between airliners. All our WestWind airliners and its crews are RVSM qualified. (Per my say so :) In the real world the airline dispatch office would have most of our preflight planning done for us by way of a computerised flight plan. We don’t have a dispatch office, so we are going to have to "do it ourselves" with what we have. We will try to perform most of our procedures from the cockpit (just like the real thing).

To start off, get in your GPS equipped international airliner at JFK or BOS and turn on Squawkbox with Voice. We are going to assume that we have complete squawkbox and voice coverage across the Atlantic.

The first thing we need to know is the departure and arrival weather. There are various ways to get the weather. For weather in the US (departure weather) you can access the weather map at our in house web site ( or the main WestWind web site. This will give you a good "overview" of the US departure weather. On this flight we will need more specific weather since we are going such a great distance. To find out specific weather at our departure and destination, we will access the weather through the ACARS display in Squawkbox. If weather is a factor, than we must have enough fuel to go to our destination, with 10 percent of trip fuel remaining, miss on the approach, than fly to our furthest alternate airport (at normal cruise) and hold for 30 minutes at 1500 feet, at holding airspeed (US FARs). Note, we still use US FARs since WestWind is a Virtual US based Airline and our "International Operating Certificate" would be US endorsed.

OK, we now have the weather and the fuel; our next step is deciding the route to put in our Squawkbox flight plan. In the real world an international flight plan is a little different than the domestic flight plan provided in Squawkbox, but we have to use what we have. Our Flight Plan routing out of JFK to London Heathrow is as follows:


Our Flight Plan routing out of BOS to London, Heathrow is as follows:


This routing should look fairly normal except for the part "Track X Burak" Now let me explain what "Track X Burak" means. This part of the flight plan is called a North Atlantic Track. They are made up several times a day in order to give the best winds for our direction of flight. Primarily they are based on the direction and wind velocity of the jet stream. In the real world they are not constant (except for the Concorde tracks) but for the virtual world of Squawkbox they are. They are made up of Lat. / Longs and are mandatory reporting points. The important thing to remember is to put them correctly into your GPS. All of the Gander Oceanic Track Routes (both Eastbound and Westbound) are available in the Preferred Routes section of our in house web site ( Now let us see exactly what "Track X Burak" looks like.

NAT - Track X BURAK looks like this (as copied from the Preferred Routes Section of our in house web site and Gander Oceanic, a division of SATCAN)

X YQX 50/50 52/40 53/30 53/20 53/15 BURAK
EAST LVLS 310 330 340 350 360 370 390

OK, I will now break this down for you. The "X" (Xray) is the name of the track. "YQX" (Gander) is the entry point of the track (entrance gate). Beginning with "50/50" are a series of Lat. / Longs that make up the track until the exit gate of BURAK. The first fix is YQX (Gander) The second fix is 50/50, which are the Lat. / Longs that this fix is made up of. It is put into your GPS as North 50.00.0 degrees and WEST 50.00.0 degrees. The next Lat. / Long reporting point is 52/40 or NORTH 52.00.0 degrees and WEST 40.00.0 degrees. The next fix is NORTH 53.00.0 degrees and WEST 30.00.0 degrees. The next fix is NORTH 53.00.0 degrees and WEST 20.00.0 degrees. The next fix is NORTH 53.00.0 degrees and WEST 15.00.0 degrees. The last fix of the Track is the exit gate of BURAK. OK, these points should be loaded and RECHECKED to make sure they are correct. The second line of the Track (beginning with EAST) are the authorised Flight Levels approved for this crossing. The are FLs 310, 330, 340, 350, 360, 370, and 390. Note that some of these flight levels are only 1000 feet apart (RVSM). The next line (beginning with WEST) means that this is an eastbound track and that flight levels going the opposite direction (west) are not available. The last line of the track, that begins with "EUR" means that airway routes west of BURAK are not available. You must go to the "exit gate" BURAK before you fly your airways to Shannon Ireland (or to other European destinations). OK, now plot your course on your Jeppesen North Atlantic Plotting Chart.

Clearance delivery, ground control and tower communications are just like a normal flight anywhere else. You will probably be given a "cleared as filed" and you should state your flight number with "Heavy" at the end. For example "WW1838 Heavy". We will now take up the flight approaching YQX (Gander) eastbound.

Ten minutes before reaching the entry gate for the track you should get your Oceanic Clearance. If you don’t get it than you must request it. You cannot enter a track without a specific clearance. Also you must be at your assigned altitude crossing the entrance gate. All of the parts of the track are MANDATORY REPORTING POINTS, which means you have to tell ATC you have crossed over them. Remember that you are now out of radar coverage. Once you pass YQX you must make a standard international position report. This report has these elements in it:

Track ID

Position and time over this Position

Flight Level

Next fix and Estimated Time Over

Following fix

Any weather (if requested by Company or Gander)

The actual HF radio communication would go something like this:

"Gander Radio, WW1838 Heavy, Position"

"Roger, WW1838 Heavy, this is Gander Radio, go ahead with your position report"

"Roger, Gander Radio, WW1838 Heavy, Track Xray, crossed YQX at 2200 (UTC) Flight Level 330

Estimating 50 North 50 West at 2245, 52 North 40 West will be next Winds are 270 /

125, Temperature –35 C"

"Roger, WestWind 1838 Heavy, this is Gander Radio: (and than reads back your position report)"

In the real world you would be out of range of normal VHF radio reception and would be using HF. Now, HF is good from the standpoint of long range but it is an "ear full" to listen to, for long hours flying across the Atlantic. Using Squawkbox there isn’t any difference as the controller stays on the same IP. In the real world you don’t have to monitor the noisy HF if you have a SELCAL unit installed. All of our WestWind airliners are SELCAL equipped (again, per my "say so":). What this unit does is "Bing bong" you through the speaker when ATC wants to talk to you. It sounds very much like a household doorbell. I bring this up because you can do this through Squawkbox. If you want to fly in 3dfx you would lose the text portion of squawkbox. However, you have voice contact with the controller who could "Bing bong" you if he needed to write you a text message. Before you get too far into the track it would be a good idea to see if the SELCAL works. The radio communication would go as follows:

"Gander Radio, WestWind 1838 Heavy, Requests a SELCAL check on ADFH (or any other 4 letters you

want to use"

"Roger, WestWind 1838 Heavy, standby for your SELCAL check". (The controller would than send you

a text message)

"Gander Radio, WestWind 1838 Heavy, SELCAL checks, OK".

Most airliners are to heavy, when they take off, to go to their Max climb altitude. What happens is that airliners need to "step climb" as they make their way across the Atlantic and "burn off" fuel. When you reach a weight where you can go to a higher altitude you should request this from Gander Radio. The radio communication would go like this:

"Gander Radio, WestWind 1838 Heavy, Requests Clearance".

"WestWind 1838 Heavy, this is Gander Radio, go ahead with your Request".

"Roger, Gander, WestWind 1838 Heavy, Requests FL 370"

"Roger, WestWind 1838 Heavy, cleared to FL 370, Report Reaching"

"Roger, Gander, WestWind 1838 Heavy, out of FL 330 for FL 370"

When you reach FL 370 you would say.

"Gander Radio, WestWind 1838 Heavy, level at FL 370"

"Roger, WestWind 1838 Heavy, Gander copies"

Suppose that you make a mistake on the time of your next position report fix. The radio communication would go something like this:

"Gander Radio, WestWind 1838 Heavy, Revised Estimate"

"Roger, WestWind 1838 Heavy, this is Gander Radio". "Go ahead with your revised estimate"

You would than give him the corrected estimate for your next fix.

OK, at 50 North and 30 West we would be cleared to contact Shanwick, Oceanic (Radio). We would give are next reporting points of the track in the same way as we did before. Once we arrive at the "exit gate" BARAK we would than be turned over to Shannon Centre on VFH who would continue our flight to Heathrow. Once you get into VHF range, than your radio communication is just like flying in the states (with a few minor exceptions). The main difference is the concept of QNH. When you ask for, or are given an altimeter setting, it is given as QNH (in millibars). Most of the WestWind altimeters can use both inches of mercury or millibars to define sea level pressure (1013 mb=29.92 inches of mercury). OK, one last thing. Remember that all the position reports on the track are MANDATORY REPORTING POINTS. If you forget one, don't wait but immediately notify the controlling centre and give it (even though it is late).

OK, That concludes this presentation. When you come from Europe to the States you would follow the same procedures using a Westbound Track. I hope you have enjoyed this presentation and that flying across the Atlantic will give you a great deal of fun.

Take Care

Ed Ward, Jr.
Executive Vice President,
Chief Pilot,
Head Of Training
WestWind, VA


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