What Qualifies as an Official Preflight Briefing?

As more pilots plan their flights using tools on the Web and apps on tablets like the iPad, questions continue about what qualifies as an official preflight briefing. For most people, “official briefing” means that the FAA recognizes that the data are current and accurate and that the provider of the briefing keeps a record of the briefing.

The list of services that meet both of those requirements is short (see AIM 7−1−2. FAA Weather Services) and includes:

  • FSS, which records calls and other data (e.g., your airplane N-number). You can call FSS (now managed by Leidos) at 1­-800­-WX­BRIEF (800-992-­7433) and/or obtain an online briefing via the FSS website.
  • DUATS (provided by CSC at www.duats.com)
  • Services like FltPlan.com and ForeFlight, which keep records of briefings
  • Providers approved for commercial operators through their operation specifications (e.g., airline dispatchers)

So, if you get a briefing, directly or indirectly from a recognized source, you have obtained an official briefing. For example, many flight-planning services and apps can use your account at the FSS web portal or you DUAT account to download and record briefings, thereby meeting the requirements.

ForeFlight provides background on its briefings here.

More than Weather

It’s important, however, to distinguish between checking the weather and getting a complete preflight briefing, as required by § 91.103  Preflight action, which states in part:

Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight. This information must include—

(a) For a flight under IFR or a flight not in the vicinity of an airport, weather reports and forecasts, fuel requirements, alternatives available if the planned flight cannot be completed, and any known traffic delays of which the pilot in command has been advised by ATC;

The phrase all available information concerning that flight includes NOTAMs, TFRs, and other critical details beyond the weather. Even if there’s not a cloud in the skies, it’s important to get a briefing to ensure that you’re up-to-date on important NOTAMs, restricted airspace, and related information.

Practical Advice

According to the AIM and other official documents, the FAA still considers Flight Service Stations (FSS) “the primary source for obtaining preflight briefings and inflight weather information” (AIM 7-1-4).

But an FAA document published in 2006 recognizes that times have changed, and that pilots use many resources to collect and analyze weather. General Aviation Pilot’s Guide Preflight Planning, Weather Self-Briefings, and Weather Decision Making (PDF) describes many useful resources and takes a common-sense approach to checking and analyzing the weather.

This booklet is a practical guide to using a variety of sources, including FSS, DUATS, The Aviation Weather Center, and unofficial providers, such as The Weather Channel and websites. (Aviation Weather Center, for example, is an FAA-approved, official source of weather information, but your visits aren’t recorded, so the information you obtain there doesn’t constitute an official weather briefing—and AWC doesn’t provide NOTAMs and related information.)  The introduction notes:

Although a Flight Service weather briefing is still the single most comprehensive source of weather data for GA flying, it can be difficult to absorb all the information conveyed in a telephone briefing. Pictures are priceless when it comes to displaying complex, dynamic information like cloud cover and precipitation. For this reason, you may find it helpful to begin the preflight planning process by looking at weather products from a range of providers. The goal of this self-briefing process is to develop an overall mental picture of current and forecast weather conditions, and to identify areas that require closer investigation with the help of an FSS briefer.

The document then describes a typical process for obtaining reports and forecasts that can supplement an official briefing from FSS or DUATS.

You can also find detailed information about preflight weather briefings in Aviation Weather Services (AC-0045). That AC, updated in 2016, describes all of the weather reports, forecasts, charts, and other information that are part of official weather briefings for pilots.

The April 2015 issue of FAA Safety Briefing (link to PDF here) offers more recommendations, especially in “But Does It Count?” on page 22:

  • There is no regulatory requirement for part 91 GA operators to use any particular weather source.
  • There are no “required” or “approved” weather sources for part 91 operations.
  • There is no prohibition on using other sources either as a substitute for, or a supplement to, AFSS or DUAT/DUATs briefings that the AIM encourages GA pilots to use.


GA pilots are not required to use “approved” weather. Neither I nor my colleagues are aware of enforcement actions for a “bad” weather source. If there is an accident or incident, however, a documented official weather briefing would help show that the pilot complied with the 14 CFR 91.103 requirement to obtain “all available information” about the proposed flight.

Flight Service Pilot Portal

Another source of an FAA-recognized briefing is the Flight Service website. You can sign up for a free account there and use it to obtain recorded briefings, file flight plans, etc. You can also set up a pilot profile that includes basic information about you, your aircraft, and typical routes that you fly. When you call FSS, the briefer sees the caller-ID information tied to your profile. Using a profile greatly reduces the number of questions the briefer must ask to conduct a briefing or file a flight plan. You can learn more about using the FSS website here (PDF) and by watching videos at the the Flight Service channel on YouTube, here.

In-Flight Weather Updates

ADS-B provides weather reports and forecasts via Flight Information Service (FIS), including Flight Information Service−Broadcast (FIS−B). AIM 7-1-10 describes the available products. See especially Table 7-1-1 and Table 7-1-2.

AC 00-63 Use of Cockpit Displays of Digital Weather and Aeronautical Information also provides good background and practical advice about using ADS-B FIS-B in the cockpit.

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2 Responses to What Qualifies as an Official Preflight Briefing?

  1. Kevin Morisette says:

    Has anyone else been able to make an account on the Lockheed-Martin Pilot Portal? I created an account but it didn’t ask for a password. I tried to reset it, but I never receive any emails…

    • bruceair says:

      If you’re having trouble setting up an account, you should contact L-M directly.
      For Website technical support, call LM Service Desk: 866-936-6826
      For flight plan and weather briefing services, call LM Flight Services: 800-WX-Brief (800-992-7433)

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