The Danur Flight Operation Centre (F.O.C) has been on the market for a few years already, used by the “serious enthusiasts” as the advertisement says… Indeed, if you are as passionate for your flight preparation as for your flights, you might want to understand what FOC can offer. The learning curve is steep and demands a respectable time (so does the normal usage), but ultimately your ability to prepare the most detailed flight and operational plans there are in the flight simming world today will be your reward. So if you are in the habit to rush through your flight prep, and enjoy a software requiring a click on the departure airport, another on the destination with a single click for the routing and are happy with the results, just don’t read any further, this programme may not likely suit you.
On another hand, if your taste for real world accuracy, curiosity and willingness to learn what the “pro” use for their dispatch tasks pushes you to read on, you will not be disappointed. Many software (even MSFS versions in the past) used “pro” as a qualitative suffix to define an upmarket or complex product. Danur refrained from that, but FOC would undoubtedly deserve this qualification, as it is in fact a reduction of a professional flight operation planning software. That sets the stage for what will follow, do not expect what we call “intuitive” usage of this programme. Be warned, the 78 page manual is a must read before you click on the start icon of Danur F.O.C.!
Download and Installation
The download is made directly from the www.danur.com site, it is only 22.1 MB, and the installation is straightforward following the on screen instructions. Registration is done on the site, create your user name and password, and pay for the required services. Services with an “s” because you have several packages to choose from:
Among the options offered are the weather online service (NOAA Upper Winds METAR and TAF) and the Navigational database updates. Although those prices may look stiff at first glance, both services are provided by professional organizations to Danur (ARINC come from ADS used by some well known airlines) and converted into formats used by FOC. There is no possibility to use other sources such as the popular Navdata site for example. At this stage one must decide for both services or none. If you already have a software such as Active Sky, a weather subscription to FOC may not necessarily be redundant, since you will need weather information (a) for your enroute flight planning computation, otherwise your plans will remain with zero wind (unless you copy winds aloft from another weather utility manually into the Winds aloft editor), and (b) you will receive the daily NAT and PAC OTS tracks as part of that weather package. Do note that a three-month free subscription is offered with the standard software, so that weather service decision can be postponed after a free trial period.
Regarding the ARINC cycle subscription, the choice may be more sensitive: if you are used to flying with updated navigational data on all your add-on airplanes, the decision may be to update once your FOC database and stick to it with the same update on all your add-ons so as to avoid the steep €99 annual charge. Initially the downloaded software uses the FS9 year 2003 navdata library. A single update at 15 Euros via bimonthly and quarterly updates up to the full update is also available.
As implied before, unless you are a professional flight planner, there is no short cut to jump on the click button trying your luck in making your first flight planning, this is the best way to get frustrated and discouraged. The documentation is abundant but lacks in details though, you quickly realize that this programme was written by pros, they knew what they were doing and did it well, but somewhat overlooked the fact that most users won’t have the knowledge to follow their train of thoughts easily in the process. A tutorial would be welcome.
I tried to figure a way to describe, in a summarized form, the various capabilities of this Flight Operation Centre and came up with a synoptic chart as follows:
Now that you have the big picture, let’s get into the details of this product to see how it performs.
The Flight Router
My first attempt was to create a simple flight plan from Sao Paulo to Santiago de Chile.
The first phase is straightforward, following the sequence of actions as listed in the table above, type in departure and destination airports (ICAO or IATA format), and select SID and STAR which will best suit our route today according to the weather. For this, we will have downloaded the TAFs and METARs directly with the software. This done, let’s make sure the SID ends and the STAR starts on an airway, and launch the MTT (minimum time track) autorouter after inputting type of aircraft (choice of Heavy jet down to Light prop), time of departure, flight level capabilities, speed and weather file to be used, if any, or Zero Wind.
In a matter of seconds, the route is proposed. To review this routing, IFR enroute charts will have to be handy. Various simulation and real world aviation Internet sites offer them free of charge on line. Although one can add VORs, NDBs, Intersections and Airports to the (small) chart shown on that window, you cannot call airways, thus it is impossible to assess the accuracy of the proposed planning unless you compare it with an IFR enroute chart. This brings up the necessity of having a set of charts of the same cycle as your FOC and Add-on airplanes. As an aside note, when one adds the navigational facilities to the chart, the computing power is eaten up in such a way that any usage of the map becomes quite difficult.
The proposed routings would fit the airway requirements and Great Circle (there is an indication showing the percentage over the Great Circle route, 100% being the GC itself), but also – and this is terribly important on long hauls – FOC will integrate the winds aloft in its computation, provided of course you subscribe to the weather online service or input the Upper Winds manually in the editor. On limited occurrences did I have to make corrections to save a few miles, but in fairness, I found the MTT to be quite effective in most cases. My understanding is that this tool is still work in progress (as indicated on the tool itself).
Should we prefer making our routing manually, we can of course insert all the waypoints we desire, type in the ICAO name of it, and Enter, the programme will offer a choice of waypoints corresponding to this identification..
In some cases, I could not save my routes without adding missing links between STAR and destination airport, since STAR don’t always end on the RWY but at a fix from where we are vectored by ATC. Once the FP is saved, it is added to the database of available FP which can be reused and or amended according to new weather or routing conditions for future flights.
NAT or PAC OTS
The daily tracks are downloaded with the weather files and can be imported on the NAT PLOT freeware created by Bob Raemer included in the package to visualize the entry, waypoints and exit points of the day. This is neat and well thought of.
EROPS/STOPS Operation Planning
To identify airports located within the corresponding ranges (STOPS or EROPS) to which the aircraft we intend to fly belongs, I would recommend using the NAT PLOT software again, since we can import on it our intended FOC flight plan. Once this is accomplished, we list those deviations in our EROPS/STOPS file and save it. This file will be utilized by the programme during the final computation to ascertain that all deviations are within the limits.
If your flights originate from the same airport(s), it may be wise to create sets of trunk routes IN and OUT of these airports to/from a NAT entry point for example, this will save you time in your future planning. Building such trunk routes is similar to a normal flight planning, except that origins (in the case of inbound trunks) or destinations (for outbound trunks) are replaced by a waypoint. The MTT autorouter can be used in the same manner as described before. You can then retrieve those trunks with your OTS tool in which you can combine NAT and Trunks to complete a flight in one go. On occasions, I had a tough time making this work I must say, as some waypoints were not found in the database and trunk routes were not always added leaving me with no option but do it the old fashion way, manually… This is where I wish the manual would be a little more precise, no doubt that an experienced user can go through with no difficulty, but it is challenging and frustrating at first, when you know that you are missing a small “key” and you can’t figure what it is even after multiple RTFunnyM!
With this tool, we can create our own airline schedule, exactly as a professional dispatcher would do, for weekly and daily workloads. This template shows all flights already scheduled (FOC has quite a number of flights saved in and out of LSZH, home base of Urs Wildermuth) to which we can add our own with the relevant information: Airline, type of aircraft, departure and destination airports, time, days of operation, flight number, Scheduled/Non scheduled/Temporary flights. If you have a hard time deciding which flight you want to undertake today before starting FS9, just have a look at the FOC scheduler, chances are that you will find what you want at the time you need it. Of course, before reaching that stage, you will progressively build up your own database of flights… A fun tool which brings you closer to the “real world” and can become addictive.
Two weather editors are available if required: the first one to input saved weather files according to the time of the day, the second to edit the Upper Winds, allowing an unlimited number of manual combinations or import of wind data from previous files, at defined FL, Lat and Lon. One can then change the temperature, speed and direction of wind for each desired location. These are very useful and powerful tools if one wishes to tailor-make weather on a specific route, or – if you are patient enough - to transfer manually wind information provided by another weather utility so as to include this data in the FOC computation.
Weight and balance
Calculation of Final Flight Plan and Operation
A single click will compute the complete detailed flight operation planning and deliver a wealth of information on the following pages:
1. Short Flight Plan
2. Detailed flight plan.
3. STOPS/EROPS calculation.
4. ATC Flight plan as filed with ATC
5. Metar and TAF
On that output window, we can call the map with the actual flight route to review it one last time, but, obviously, it cannot be corrected any more unless we go through the whole process again. When satisfied with the results, we “release” the flight so as to make it available for a transfer to MSFS and by email to anyone we wish, using the FOC mailer within the programme. This is certainly a useful feature for virtual airlines dispatchers whose pilots are all equipped with FOC.
Flight Plan Transfer to Microsoft Flight Simulator and Other Programmes
We now reached the stage where our flight plan is ready to be used and can be transferred to FS9 or earlier version (up to FS2000), as well as Aerowinx PS 1.3 and ACSGPS or EFIS 98. Unfortunately, at this time, there is no export tools to add-on aircrafts such as PMDG (one can use the freeware programme pln2rte written by Alan Chan available at AVSIM to convert FS9 pln to PMDG rte format), or LDS 767 and eventually FSNav (so as to be able to use its moving map). Any add-on using the FS9 format i.e. PSS and F1 ATR, for example, can obviously be used without further transfer or conversion. When loading our flight in FS, we will find our FOC plan available in the FS saved routes starting with the airline ICAO three-letter code. The FOC flight plan converted to the MSFS format is of course accessible on your FS kneeboard in case you prefer not to print it, but be aware that those numerous details mentioned before will be missing (that would be a shame!),.
For pilots using FS 2002 and 2000, this utility will allow the creation of flight adventures.
PBR and In Flight Planning
Both options to recalculate your planning are available when needed: PBR (Planning Based on Re-clearance) and In Flight planning, they may become handy when your flight hits some nasty situations.
I have to confess that it is the only feature which I avoided using (understand: creating an aircraft file) as it is a lengthy and detailed process requiring not only time, but a lot of data not always available to the average simmer. Taking a cursory look at all those “threatening” tables will make many shy away from this exercise. But thanks to many FOC patient and passionate owners, several user’s edit are available free of charge at the Danur Forum for the latest PMDG B737 NG and B744, LDS B763, F1 ATR72, RFP B 742 to name only a few. Some of those airplane files, included in the original product delivery, were fed by FOC developers with aircraft manufacturers’ information, thus they may slightly differ from add-ons performances (and definitely with default Microsoft aircrafts), but certainly not to a point to make them unusable. Most of those aircraft files are locked with a password by their author so as to avoid unwarranted changes that might upset future planning calculations.
Individual aircraft files can be created for one particular aircraft with its own registration and airline, this is evidently useful for a real airline since they might have say MD11s equipped differently (engines, capacity, cargo etc.) requiring distinctive performances. This is equally interesting if you have several versions of the same aircraft (different engines) in your hangar, provided you possess the data required to fill up those tables that is, since information offered by add-on developers are often not very detailed. Finally, this aircraft editor will allow the creation of separate airline fleets if you wish. To summarize, do not embark in that process if you do not have the performance data requirements listed in the manual, an inaccurate or incomplete job will only lead to unwanted planning results!
Although a number of airlines are already fed into this database, you might want to add more which are not listed such as Varig for example. This process is simple and best shown with the template itself:
Is Danur Flight Operation Centre for You?
After reading this review, which I made as thorough as I could after testing all but one of its features (the aircraft editor), you probably formed your opinion as to whether this product appeals to you, fits your needs or exceeds them.
Each virtual pilot has his own views as to what he wants to know and use for his flights. FOC is a professional tool designed by a pro who was himself a dispatcher for a major airline, hence there is very little –if anything – that can be added to such a complex and complete package.
If you regard your flight planning as an integral part of the fun to fly virtually, the time devoted to this process to (a) enjoy it, (b) squeeze all the benefits out of this wonderful software, will become a hobby in itself. After a few days using FOC, I found myself immersed into a flight plan creation frenzy, with real airline schedule and flight numbers, using the same aircraft types and flight frequency, so as to build up flight choices out of my “home” airports and preferred airlines.
If you really
want to become as knowledgeable on flight operation planning as on flying
techniques, get the best out of your airplanes, and discover
a new passion beside, but complementary to FS, then FOC could very well
be for you.
|What I Like About Danur Flight Operation Centre|
|What I Don't Like About Danur Flight Operation Centre|
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