What Qualifies as an Official Preflight Briefing?
August 12, 2013 2 Comments
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 fairly short (the current list is available here), and includes:
- FSS, which records calls and other data (e.g., your airplane N-number). You can call FSS (managed by Lockheed-Martin; 1-800-WXBRIEF [800-992-7433]) and/or obtain an online briefing via the Lockheed-Martin FSS pilot portal.
- DUATS (provided by DTC at www.DUAT.com or by CSC at www.duats.com)
- Services like FltPlan.com and ForeFlight, which meet the requirements of AC 00-62 [Note FAA canceled AC 00-62 on July 2, 2013. “FAA Flight Standards Service (AFS) no longer requires operators to utilize vendors that are approved Qualified Internet Communications Providers.”]. That AC “describes the process for any person or organization that provides access to aviation weather and Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) via the Public Internet to become a Qualified Internet Communications Provider (QICP). “
- Providers approved for commercial operators through their operation specifications (e.g., airline dispatchers)
Regarding record-keeping, AC 00-62 notes that:
QICPs should maintain a retrievable archive of Internet server log files as well as data received and provided in each transaction for a period of no less than 15 calendar days after the date of that transaction. In the event of receipt of notification of an accident, incident or overdue aircraft, or upon the request of the FAA or the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the provider should retain the data related to that aircraft indefinitely, or until such time that the destruction of the data is authorized by law. The QICP should make this data available in the form of a readable certified true copy upon request of the FAA, the NTSB or a Federal, state or local law enforcement agency.
So, if you get a briefing, directly or indirectly from an approved source, you have obtained an official briefing. For example, many flight-planning services and apps use your DUAT or DUATS account to download and record briefings, thereby meeting the requirements.
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.
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, ADDS, and unofficial providers, such as The Weather Channel and websites. (ADDS, 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 ADDS 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 good information about preflight weather briefings in Aviation Weather Services (AC-0045G-1). That AC describes in detail all of the weather reports, forecasts, charts, and other information that are part of official weather briefings.
Lockheed-Martin Pilot Portal
Another, relatively new source of an official briefing is the Lockheed-Martin pilot portal. You can sign up for a free account there and use it to obtain official, 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. Here’s the L-M description of a pilot profile:
Once you have registered on Lockheed Martin Flight Services’ (LMFS) Flight Planning Website (select “Pilot Portal” on toolbar, above right), you may enter personal contact data, favorite flight plans and personal aircraft data. After that, the data in your pilot profile can automatically populate your flight plans when you file on LMFS’s Pilot Portal. The same data also will be available to your Specialist whenever you call 1-800-WX_BRIEF from a phone you’ve entered in your Profile. The benefits of an established pilot profile include reducing the potential for errors, whether you file with LMFS via the Pilot Portal or with a Specialist. Pilots who prefer not to register on or user LMFS’ on-line flight planning services may simply call 1-800-WX_BRIEF and request any Specialist to establish and populate a Pilot Profile.