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. And FAA continues to cut redundant services and features that pilots aren’t using, such as DUATS, Flight Watch and TIBS.
There are multiple sources available to pilots to access weather and aeronautical information, which are often presented in an easier to understand graphical format. Pilots no longer need to call a Flight Service specialist to adhere to Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) section 91.103 to maintain awareness of weather and aeronautical information. FAA Safety Briefing July/August 2018.
See also AC 91-92: Pilot’s Guide to a Preflight 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.
- 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 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.
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).
In March 2021, FAA published AC 91-92: Pilot’s Guide to a Preflight Briefing. It provides more detail about resources available to you as you self-brief prior to a flight.
You can also find detailed information about preflight briefings in Aviation Weather Services (AC-0045). That AC, last updated in 2018, 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.