A Guide to Step Climbing

Step Climbing


Welcome to your guide to Step Climbing! With the 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. In each of the steps below, the photos attached will show you how the pilots respond to an aircraft with a high weight as they trek towards their destination.

At the end of this tutorial you’ll be able to:

  • Evaluate the necessary steps and precautions needed to choose an appropriate altitude when venturing out on a long haul flight.

Terms Used

"Step-Climbing": a technique/procedures that 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.


The Breakdown

Below are 5 steps all of which have an image and a brief explanation within each drop down. As noted before, the example flight is a flight from Dallas, Texas to Sydney, Australia. From Step 1 through Step 5 you will have progressed from your lowest cruise altitude to your highest cruise altitude.


Step 1

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.


Step 2

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.


Step 3

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.


Step 4

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


Step 5

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.


To Summarize:

  • 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, weather, etc. Don’t load 100% fuel if you don’t need it. Loading 100% fuel will only restrict how high you can cruise.

TIP: If you’re still having issues maintaining or finding yourself at higher than normal engine power settings, try dropping down 2000ft to the next available altitude for your direction of travel.

Questions? Feel free to drop them below. Others may have the same or similar question(s), so please don’t hesitate to ask. Hopefully this tutorial has provided some clarification on any struggles you may have encountered along the way.

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Nicely done, thank you!

25 Likes

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

11 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?

3 Likes

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

4 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 😂

4 Likes

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

4 Likes

Nice topic thanks this will help alot of people :)

4 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

4 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

2 Likes

You are either:

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

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

2 Likes

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?

3 Likes

Screenshot_2017-10-28-21-41-18

2 Likes

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

3 Likes