New FSS Briefing Format

Flight Service (Leidos) has released a new briefing format at 1800wxbrief.com. You can watch an overview video below. The FAA contractor just renewed its agreement with FAA to provide FSS services for at least five years.

FAA Plans for FSS Modernization

FAA wants to overhaul the way it provides preflight briefings and related services to general aviation users. The agency has published a request for proposals for providers interested in offering services now available primarily through Leidos (via telephone at 1-800-wxbrief and the web at www.1800wxbrief.com) and via apps, such as ForeFlight, Garmin Pilot, FltPlan.com, FlyQ, and others.

AOPA has a summary of the proposal on its website, here. The key background document is the FAA Future Flight Services (FFS) Strategic Plan (PDF). For more information about this shift, see Declining Demand for FSS Services at BruceAir.

The FAA Future Flight Services (FFS) Strategic Plan notes that pilots are rapidly adopting tablet, mobile, and web-based services for flight planning and related tasks:

Over the last decade, Flight Service users are trending towards self-assisted service delivery methods as technology improves and industry-provided services become more widely available. Voice services constitute a small percentage of transactions and a majority of the cost to the FAA, while automated services constitute the majority of transactions.

The FAA’s Future Flight Services Program (FFSP) vision is to transform and modernize the delivery of flight services over a 15-year period. The FAA believes that costs can be reduced by focusing on changing user behavior and migrating to automated, self-assisted service delivery models, while still maintaining quality of service and safety. Through FFSP, the FAA seeks to create a long-term contract vehicle and establish a relationship with the Service Provider, industry and user groups to better position the agency to take advantage of user behavior changes and improved technology.

Together, government and industry will work to realize three strategic goals:

1. Reduce the FAA cost to provide flight services, with a target reduction over 65%

2. Encourage the use of technology, industry best practices, and authoritative flight data accessed through the System-Wide Information Management (SWIM) Program to improve efficiency and quality of service delivery

3. Facilitate and gain stakeholder acceptance of changes in Flight Service delivery

The FAA is confident that a collaborative relationship among Flight Service users and stakeholders, the Flight Service Provider and the FAA will be the foundation for successful delivery of improved flight services at a price that fits within the FAA’s budget and at a level of safety and quality of service that meets or exceeds what is delivered today…

3.1 USER TRENDS TOWARDS AUTOMATION
The last decade has seen a steady increase in the use of self-service applications to the point that automated transactions outnumber human-assisted calls by 3 to 1 and 90% of flight plans are filed using automated means. The degree to which pilots rely on automation on the ground and in the cockpit runs the gamut from historic aircraft with little or no avionics to sophisticated flight planning software and electronic flight bags for high-end users.

A table in the strategic plan offers more details.

FSS-StrategicPlan-Table-1-1

The strategic plan doesn’t provide specific proposals about how FSS services will change in the near future, but you can read additional background at the FSS page at the FAA website.

ForeFlight PDF Briefing Format

ForeFlight has added a PDF option for displaying preflight briefings. As the tweet below explains, the enhanced PDF briefing provides a more compact briefing that, among other features, sifts out irrelevant NOTAMs.

ForeFlight-PDF-Briefing-Tweet

The Briefing Format option is on the Settings tab in ForeFlight.

ForeFlight-BriefingFormat

I tested the feature by briefing an IFR flight from Boeing Field (KBFI) in Seattle to Felts Field (KSFF) in Spokane. You can download the full PDF of that briefing here.

The illustrations below show examples of the pages from the briefing.

ForeFlight-PDF-Briefing-P1

ForeFlight-PDF-Briefing-P2

ForeFlight-PDF-Briefing-P3

ForeFlight-PDF-Briefing-P4

 

 

FAA Proposes End to HIWAS

FAA is requesting comments on a proposal to discontinue the Hazardous Inflight Weather Advisory Service (HIWAS) provided by Flight Service.

For more information about changes to services provided by FSS, see the FAA website, here, and this item at BruceAir.

FAA announced the proposal in the Federal Register on July 23, 2018. Comments are due August 22, 2018; refer to Docket Number FAA-2018-0649.

Here’s the key text of the announcement:

Hazardous Inflight Weather Advisory Service (HIWAS) is a continuous broadcast of weather advisories over a limited nationwide network of VORs that provide pilots with meteorological information relating to hazardous weather. Since the early 1980s, the broadcast, available in various locations of the contiguous United States (CONUS) allows pilots to access hazardous weather while inflight without going through a Flight Service specialist. HIWAS was conceived when there was a large demand for inflight briefings from specialists and wait times could be extremely long. HIWAS alleviated the workload of the specialists and helped to reduce wait times for pilots. At that time, pilots had no other choice but to contact Flight Service to obtain hazardous weather updates for the route of flight. Originally created by specialists using scripts, HIWAS is now produced using text to voice technology.

With the advent of the internet and other technology, the demand for inflight services from Flight Service specialists has declined. Staffing was 3,000+ specialists in more than 300 facilities during the early 1980s and now consists of three hub facilities. In 2018, radio contacts dropped to less than 900 per day from an average of 10,000 radio contacts per day.

As part of FAA efforts to modernize and streamline service delivery, the agency is interested in receiving comments on elimination of the Hazardous Inflight Weather Advisory Service.

 

New Kneeboard Nav Log at 1800wxbrief.com

The official FSS website, 1800wxbrief.com, now offers a new kneeboard-style navigation log that you can print and use in the cockpit.

You can set up a free account at 1800wxbrief.com, also known as Flight Service Pilot Web. It’s the official portal to FSS (DUATS was shut down in May 2018). To learn more about the services at 1800wxbrief.com, visit the site’s YouTube channel.

To see the kneeboard navigation log, first create a flight plan and click the NavLog button at the bottom of the flight plan window to display the standard naviation log.

LeidosFSS-Navlog-01
LeidosFSS-Navlog-02.jpg

To creat PDF version of the log in kneeboard format, click the Kneeboard PDF button at the top right of the standard NavLog window.

LeidosFSS-Navlog-03
You can print the PDF, which is formatted to fold to fit a typical pilot kneeboard.

Declining Demand for FSS Services

The July/August 2018 issue of FAA Safety Briefing includes a note about the end of TIBS, the Telephone Information Briefing Service (TIBS) in the contiguous United States, effective Sept. 13, 2018.

(TIBS is recorded information, including weather reports and forecasts. Flight Service created TIBS when there was a large demand for briefings, with the potential for extremely long wait times. You can read about TIBS in AIM 7-1-8.)

The interesting news the in article, however, isn’t about TIBS, which most pilots don’t know about and therefore don’t use and won’t miss. Instead, there’s the following detail about how pilots are actually using FSS:

With the advent of the internet and other enabling technology, the demand for information from Flight Service specialists has declined. From more than 3,000 specialists in more than 300 facilities during the early 1980s, staffing has decreased to fewer than 400 specialists in three facilities. Radio contacts have dropped to less than 900 per day, from an average of 10,000 per day.

A chart from another FAA document shows the trend graphically:

FSS-RadioContacts

This trend led to the end of Flight Watch in 2015 and a program to reduce the number of remote communications outlets (RCO) for FSS.

As the article notes, complying with 14 CFR 91.103 Preflight Action doesn’t require calling FSS (for more background, see What Qualifies as an Official Preflight Briefing? at BruceAir):

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.

Graphical Forecasts for Aviation

The Graphical Forecasts for Aviation tool at the Aviation Weather Center is now operational. It supplants the text Area Forecasts in the lower 48, plus it offers more information about current weather. AOPA has published more news about the swtich to the GFA here.

For more detailed information about the GFA tool, see this description (PDF) and this tutorial.

AWC-GFA-tool

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. 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

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.

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 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.