A Guide to Step Climbing

Are you having issues maintaining speed and altitude in cruise?

(If so, consider reading the information below. Some of your questions/concerns may be answered)


With the new release of global to Infinite Flight, there are many new things to learn in regards to your aircraft’s performance. The days of taking off from your favorite airport to cruising at FL390 within 20mins of departure are long over. Included in this tutorial are a few images that were screenshotted from FlightAware.com that will better help explain how Step Climbing is achieved. The flight in particular is Qantas 8 (QF8). This route departs Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas (KDFW), and arrives in Sydney, Australia (YSSY) and utilizes the A380.

As you could imagine, the distance is quite large. About 8500nm. With that being said, it requires a hefty amount of fuel to get across the Pacific Ocean.

When aircraft are departing on long haul trips/routes such as this one, they are quite heavy at their originating airport. Full of passengers, cargo and fuel. The photos below will show you how the pilots respond to an aircraft with a high weight as they trek towards their destination.


What is Step Climbing?
A technique/procedure called “Step-Climbing” is utilized to assist an aircraft and the pilots in climbing to a higher cruise altitude. This process involves pilots flying at lower cruise altitudes until the burn off enough fuel to climb to the next highest cruise altitude for their route. The altitude that provides the most fuel-efficient cruise at the start of a long flight, when the aircraft is fully loaded with fuel, will not be the same altitude that would provide the most fuel efficient cruise near the end of the flight. This is due to the fact that most of the fuel onboard has been burned. Generally, the final cruise altitude is higher than the initial cruise altitude. By climbing gradually through the cruise phases of a flight, pilots can obtain the greatest fuel economy out of their flight.


1.1

In image 1.1, QF8 has just departed KDFW and is on its way to YSSY. They’ve been in the air for a little while and have leveled out at FL300. From the line green line graph you will see how there is a rise in the line and then it levels off. This was the initial step climb and cruising altitude for the flight.


1.2

As the aircraft burned some fuel off at FL300, the pilots then proceeded to climb up to the next highest altitude for the direction that they were traveling. See Cruising Altitudes for more information. Image 1.2 shows us that after the pilots flew at FL300 they climbed to FL320 and remained there for a few hours until they were able to burn even more fuel off so they could continue climbing to their final cruising altitude of FL400. Note the location of the aircraft in relation to the departure airport and arrival airport during this cruise portion.


1.3

In image 1.3, more time has passed by and the pilots have already climbed to FL340. Still making headway to their final destination, Sydney. Not too much more can be explained here as you should be getting the pattern thats occurring.


1.4

At about 60% completed with their flight and QF8 still hasn’t reached their final cruising altitude. However, they are cruising at FL360 compared to image 1.3 which was showing at FL340


1.5

With just a few hours left in their flight QF8 made the last climb up to their final cruising altitude, FL400. However this final cruise was achieved over a period of time. If you note the location where FL360 was shown in image 1.4, you will see that it the climb to FL400 began at the red line that is drawn on image 1.5. The climb to FL400 in this final step climb was very gradual. The 4000ft climb took place over a few hours.


Recap:

  • If you are departing heavy at/or near Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTW) do not climb up to your final cruise altitude right away. You will need to plan the altitudes you will step climb to before your final cruise altitude.

  • Refer to Cruising Altitudes if you are unsure what altitude you should be flying at based on your direction of travel.

  • If you find yourself stalling in cruise, you have an unusual attitude (pitch of the aircraft), or you’re unable to maintain an altitude, you’re probably too heavy to be at that altitude. You need to descend to a lower altitude to burn off fuel and try climbing up gradually later on in your flight.

  • Only take the fuel required for the flight plus any for reserves, diversions, etc. Don’t load 100% fuel if you don’t need it. Loading 100% fuel will only restrict how high you can cruise.

Questions? Feel free to drop them below. Others might have the same question(s), so don’t hesitate to ask. Hopefully this will help some folks out.

172 Likes
How to save fuel
A380 stalled
Throttle N1 question
Fuel Shortage
Elevator Lock Issues
Service ceiling for all aircraft in Infinite Flight 2
A380 IAS/Climb Rate
Tips For Longer Flights?
Fuel gauge mystery
Has this happened to you (autopilot issue)
Is there a speed limit at or above 40,000ft
Low Fuel Warning on Long Haul
A330 Recommended Profiles
Cruising in a 747 losing air speed unless flaps are maintained
Crash
Boeing 747-800 Rocking Violently at cruise level
I got violations for unknown reason
Why cruising altitude isn't constant?
Fuel Shortage
Fuel conservation
Nose up while flying
747 Cruising Unusually
747 Cruising Unusually
Am I doing something wrong?
777 fuel Consumption
A380 VS and rotation speed
Random Mid-Flight Dives and Crashes
777-300ER Leveling Issue
777-300 Long-Haul Flight Struggles
At what turbine RPM are IF fuel flows calculated?
B747 Fuel Burn Issues
Long Haul help
Insane pitch up while cruising.
Flight Fuel
A380 ascending issue
Speed low
A380 overweight flight from Dubai to Auckland
Issue on the 777 series
Airplanes crash automatically
777-200LR Range
777-200LR Range
Fuel Issues
Fuel calculation
787-8 A/P Issues
high altitude stall?
Running out of fuel
Cruising
A380 too heavy?
B777-300ER Speed and altitude
Plane crash 787-9
B777 instability in cruise
Cruising at a high angle.
Airplane nose is up at cruising level
A380 Cruising Speed
How to level out my plane after at my targeted altitude
MD11 High Altitude Thrust Issues
777-300ER couldn’t keep its altitude
Altitude
Preparing for a Long Haul Flight.
Ultra Long Haul Tips and Tricks
Is N1 accurate?
777-300ER going full thrust with autopilot [SOLVED]
A380 Stalling While Climbing
Fuel help
Autopilot cruise issue
A330 Stall issue
A330 Stall issue
B787-9 Not keeping altitude, stalls every time
How did i stall ?
Problem with flying any Airbus Aircraft
Weird Fuel calculations
A330 has become a fuel guzzler on long flights
Elevator trim explanation and procedures
Could not reach TOC
I made a mistake
I keep spiraling out of control
Ghosted for stall and crash midflight
Ran out of fuel
Ran out of fuel
Why does my Plane keep crashing?
Conserving fuel
What’s wrong with 747?
Do long-haul flights even still work?
Changing Of Altitude during flights
Violations in flight
Expert Server Rule Outline
Violations in flight
777 fuel Consumption
Fuel planning
Perth to London
My First LONG HAUL [TIPS?]
A380 long haul flights
mod can close this
747-8 high pitch
Perth Intl - London Heathrow
ATC training
B777-300ER
B747-400 Fuel Burn
Got speed violation for nothing.
Got speed violation for nothing.
777-300ER losing speed
How to calculate fuel for long haul 777 flights
How to last a flight from YSSY-KLAX in a 777-200
E175 Inaccurate Fuel Burn
Crashed live from Dubai to Istanbul
How long can each plane last?
Plane Pitching Up mid flight during a head wind or tailwind
No fuel
Cruising altitiude and speed
Help!
Plane bugging out?
A321 AP Issue
777-200 range
Pitch oscillation in A321 while on autopilot
Does anyone else have trouble doing long hauls on an iPad Mini 4?
Problem with Boeing 777(-300ER) fuel load
Problem at cruising
Overweight fuel burn
Boeing 747-8
problem with fuel during the flight
help plane going vertical after an hour
Speed issues (I almost stalled, I need help I was very heavy)
A330 Issues
Fuel Burn
FAQ Response - Why did I run out of fuel?
IFMP France Event @ France - 251500ZNOV17
A380 IAS/Climb Rate
Problems With the A380 Auto Pilot
Question on how to fly a heavy plane
Can someone explain?
Infinite flight assistant issue
A380 at 39000 ft
I’m currently doing my longest flight..
Flaps While Cruising lol
I’m currently doing my longest flight..
Mysterious overnight crash
The 747s Physics
Why can’t I go faster when climbing over FL360
MD-11F Speed Problem
Planning a 24 hour flight (today)
MD-11F lost speed
How do you stop stalling with planes
Plane pitching up during cruise

Nicely done, thank you!

21 Likes

Wow! I will use this guide when I fly KSFO-WSSS with the group flight

10 Likes

Thanks deer! Now we just need an app for it

4 Likes

Great guide Deer. How should I know what altitude I should stop at for each “step” of flight, besides the standard cruise levels?

1 Like

simbrief.com will tell you :)

3 Likes

Simbrief will tell you like @Insertusernamehere mentioned . You can also look up the flight route like the example and just use the FL’s that they used. Otherwise, just using some judgement would be your other option. By this just pay attention to how the aircraft is performing as you climb.

3 Likes

We can’t be doing that Deer we have far better things to do then fly the plane. We just want to arrive at our destination

7 Likes

Thanks this is really useful

3 Likes

Awesome guide! I’ve been following the various cruise altitudes in SimBrief, but never really knew why they kept changing. I thought it was to avoid jet streams 😂

2 Likes

They could be - step climbing isn’t exclusively for fuel I believe

3 Likes

Nice topic thanks this will help alot of people :)

2 Likes

From what I can tell it’s both. Example I had a descent from FL400 to FL160, as far as I could tell it was to avoid a jet stream on approach

2 Likes

I’m using an Airbus a320 and I’m at my cruising altitude, my plane keeps going up and down trying to stay at the altitude how to keep the airplane at that altitude

1 Like

You are either:

  1. too heavy
  2. too fast
  3. too slow
3 Likes

You do got a point I have 120 passengers on my plane

1 Like

How much fuel did you take on ?

1 Like

To add on to what Brandon said, you need pay attention to your speed. What speed are you noticing this up/down motion?

2 Likes

Screenshot_2017-10-28-21-41-18

1 Like

@Insertusernamehere Do you know where exactly the Stepclimb is shown on the OFP from SimBrief? I found everything except for that…

2 Likes