Over the past 14 years, ForeFlight has grown from a simple phone app created by two part time software developers into a powerful suite of flight planning tools supported by a Fortune 100 company. That has meant more features, global coverage, and custom-built external devices—and as a result, safer and easier flights. However, this growth has also meant an increasing array of choices for pilots to make.
ForeFlight now offers three main subscription plans: Basic Plus, Pro Plus, and Performance Plus. On top of that there are choices for geographic regions, and considerations for fleet operators. Which subscription is right for you? What are the pros and cons of each level? In this article, we’ll examine the key differences and offer a few opinions. We will not list every feature with every plan (ForeFlight has a nice comparison chart on their site), but we will help you match your subscription to your mission.
Don’t let the word “basic” mislead you here—the lowest cost plan from ForeFlight is loaded with features. In fact, if you’re just starting out as a pilot, or if you fly exclusively on VFR days in the local area, Basic Plus is more than enough. It includes complete preflight planning features, like the powerful FPL window on the Maps page, full charts, a huge library of weather maps, graphical weather briefings, flight plan filing, and detailed airport information. That’s enough to plan a route, get an accurate time en route and fuel burn, get a weather briefing, and navigate in flight with current FAA charts.
Beyond those essentials, Basic Plus includes some helpful add-ons (which a lot of pilots overlook). For example, the built-in logbook is an easy way to track your currency and is a legal replacement for paper logbooks. The weight and balance tool calculates gross weight and center of gravity for a wide range of airplanes. The checklist feature can keep your flight organized, with pre-loaded templates and options for customization.
Also note that Basic Plus is not a “VFR plan.” It includes both IFR and VFR charts, and will file flight plans for IFR, VFR, or international flights.
Based on our informal surveys of general aviation pilots, this plan is probably the most popular option. It’s double the price of Basic Plus but still less expensive than a typical paper chart subscription. The most valuable additions here are:
- Geo-referenced approach and taxi charts. This seems like a small thing, but once you’ve flown an instrument approach with your airplane’s position overlaid on the approach plate, it’s hard to go back. This requires a GPS source (either internal to the iPad or from an external ADS-B receiver), but most pilots have that anyway. One note: Basic Plus includes geo-referenced taxi diagrams as a part of the Aeronautical map layer, but Pro Plus adds the actual FAA charts.
- Option to overlay approach plates on the Maps page. The next step is to actually overlay a plate on the Maps page. This integrates critical approach information into the moving map display, and makes it easy to add weather and traffic information to your approach path. This can be quickly removed if you need to declutter the screen.
- Synthetic vision. This powerful split-screen view adds a lifelike view of the outside world, including terrain, obstacles, and traffic. It’s a great aid to situational awareness and a helpful backup in an emergency. This feature will show a GPS-derived bank as you turn, but to unlock full pitch and roll you’ll need an ADS-B receiver with an AHRS (see below for more).
- Terrain profile and airspace. Here’s another feature that often gets overlooked. From the Maps page, open the FPL window and tap on Profile. You’ll see a side view of your planned route, including terrain, obstacles, and airspace.
As you can see from the above list, some of these features will appeal mostly to IFR pilots. But terrain profile and synthetic vision are invaluable for VFR pilots too. If you fly a lot of cross country flights, we think Pro Plus is worth it.
The newest subscription level, Performance Plus, might sound like an offering for jets, but while some of the features found here are definitely most useful for turbine pilots that doesn’t mean Baron or Cirrus owners should ignore it. The core of this plan is detailed, airplane-specific performance profiles (available for hundreds of aircraft), which take into consideration weight, altitude, and temperature. The result is very accurate time en route and fuel calculations, and this is helpful no matter what you fly. We’ve found the estimates to be shockingly good.
In addition to the more accurate aircraft profiles, there are a host of higher end features that make both preflight planning and in-flight navigation easier. Many of ForeFlight’s recent updates have built out their 3D views, including airport previews, route overviews, and track log playback. Sophisticated takeoff and landing calculations are also available, so you can “run the math” before every flight—including temperature, runway slope, and wind. Finally, Trip Assistant is a handy online tool that makes it easy to compute total trip time (including ground transportation) or plan a fuel stop.
Two features in Performance Plus really are reserved for turbine pilots. First, the integrated JetFuelX tool allows pilots to quickly research prices at any airport, including contract fuel prices. So instead of simply seeing list prices and having to call each FBO for a quote, you can enter all your cards online (Avfuel, Colt, CAA, etc.) and get accurate prices based on the number of gallons you’ll purchase. This is a huge time saver for anyone who buys fuel away from home. Second, while takeoff and landing calculations are available for many piston and turboprop airplanes as a standard feature in Performance Plus, ForeFlight also offers a sophisticated Runway Analysis tool (for an additional fee) for jets. This includes complete calculations for takeoff, factoring in obstacles, engine-out procedures, and emergency return.
What about ADS-B receivers?
A frequent question we hear is whether you need a specific ForeFlight plan to use an external device, like a Sentry or Stratus. The good news is, portable GPS and ADS-B receivers work with all three subscriptions. To use a Sentry, for example, just turn it on and connect to your iPad via WiFi (in the Settings app). When you open ForeFlight you’ll see the ADS-B receiver connected, and you can display radar, METARs, and traffic on the Maps page. All of these features are available no matter what subscription you have.
There’s one asterisk. Many of these devices include a built-in AHRS to deliver backup attitude information to your iPad. With a Basic Plus subscription, you’ll see real-time pitch and roll on the left side of the screen with a standard blue/brown horizon; with Pro Plus or Performance Plus, you’ll see a synthetic vision view that adds terrain and obstacles. So the AHRS feature works with all three levels, but the two higher ones include a nice enhancement.
How many devices?
A subscription to ForeFlight is a license for one person to use ForeFlight on two iPads and an iPhone, or one iPad and two iPhones. That means you can use it on an iPad (primary) and an iPhone (backup) without buying two subscriptions, but two pilots who share an airplane should buy two separate subscriptions.
All of ForeFlight’s pricing is based on one geographic region, but the good news is that “geographic region” means typically a country or even continent—not just a few states. For example, $120/year buys a Basic Plus plan for all of the United States; if you live in Canada you can change that coverage area to Canada for the same price.
Likewise, you can add coverage for $100/year, so if you fly in both the US and Canada, the Canadian charts requires a simple $100 add-on, not a separate subscription. European coverage—complete with Jeppesen European VFR data, EUROCONTROL AIP procedures, and more—is also available.
ForeFlight comes standard with FAA charts and data-driven maps, but pilots can also add Jeppesen IFR charts for an additional charge (typically $200-500/year). This is particularly attractive for pilots flying outside the US and Canada, or for jet pilots who regularly fly to multiple countries. If you already subscribe to Jeppesen charts for your airplane, you may be able to link that subscription to ForeFlight.
Finally, if you’re in a flight department, charter operator, or fractional operation, ForeFlight offers a Business Plan specifically targeted at multi-pilot companies. Business Pro is $200/year and Business Performance is $300/year, but discounts are available for five or more pilots.
As you can see, there are a lot of options here. That’s mostly because ForeFlight serves a huge variety of operators, from student pilots to business jet pilots to airline pilots. Our advice is to not overthink things. Here are the takeaways:
- If you’re just starting out, Basic Plus is a great plan—much more than just a demo, and more features than any app had five or six years ago.
- Pro Plus is a slam dunk for instrument pilots, and probably worth serious consideration for VFR pilots who fly cross country a lot. Synthetic vision alone will seal the deal for many.
- If you fly a higher performance piston, a turboprop, or a jet, Performance Plus is a good investment. You’ll probably save the extra $100/year in better fuel planning. If you’re flying a Cessna 172 on CAVU days, this plan is probably overkill.
- Remember, you can always upgrade if you decide you want more features so don’t worry if you have subscription envy three months after signing up. ForeFlight makes this pretty painless: if you make changes to your subscription mid-term, like upgrading to a higher plan, the balance of your remaining time is credited to the new subscription.