Air Traffic Control Specialist, FAA Flight Service’s Safety and Operations Policy Group
By Paul Cianciolo, FAA Safety Briefing Associate Editor
Aviation was not always in the cards for Frances (Frankie) Prott. Her trajectory shifted after a high school friend was accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy to study aerospace engineering. Then another happenstance aligned Frankie with someone else studying aerospace engineering at Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.
“I took it as a sign and applied to Embry–Riddle,” she revealed.
Something as interesting as aviation can have that effect on people. Her first year was both a culture shock and a language struggle as a native Puerto Rican. However, that didn’t stop Frankie from pushing the envelope and powering on.
“Towards the end of my second semester, I took a job as a restaurant host, which turned everything around,” Frankie explained. “I got over the language barrier in just a few weeks and adapted to the environment little by little. I worked with others attending Embry–Riddle and started expanding my network and horizons.”
Nothing could rain on her parade, and after her first year, she changed course, joined the meteorology program, and graduated in 2004. She was one of only two women who had earned a bachelor’s degree in meteorology from Embry–Riddle at the time.
Frankie’s time working at the restaurant paid off when a former coworker called about a weather-related job with Lockheed Martin’s Flight Services. After seven years there, she took a break to earn a master’s in business administration. Later with Jeppesen, Frankie tasted airshow life at EAA AirVenture and Sun ‘n Fun before the prevailing wind moved her toward the FAA. While working at AvMet Applications, she supported the FAA’s NextGen Aviation Weather Division. She also served as an advisor for the U.S. member of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Meteorology Panel.
“A few conversations with friends put me on the aviation path, but I got hooked once I started working in Flight Service,” Frankie recalls. “I realized how much one can do in aviation and that it’s not just for pilots and air traffic controllers. As a scientist, I found it energizing to have opportunities to apply my knowledge and experiences to such an important and exciting industry.”
Later at LS Technologies, she supported the FAA’s NextGen Technology Development and Prototyping Division and was an ICAO advisor. The clouds broke, and an opportunity presented itself at FAA headquarters.
Now Frankie is the subject matter expert in aviation weather for drones at FAA Flight Service’s Safety and Operations Policy Group. She also analyzes changes in the operational environment, determines the impact and feasibility of accomplishing mission objectives, and ensures consistent policy application. Frankie represents Flight Service on projects and programs that plan for the future, including research, strategy, and planning.
As technology continues to evolve and weather services and information expand, pilots continue to self brief. Frankie notes that this may lead to misinterpretation of weather data and displays. Not understanding features and how to interpret the available information may lead to inaccurate weather expectations. One of the new ways to help conduct comprehensive, regulatory-compliant, preflight self-briefings using automated resources is a new course (ALC-683) for VFR pilots available on faasafety.gov. Another is Advisory Circular (AC) 91–92, Pilot’s Guide to a Preflight Briefing.
Frankie is working hard to ensure you have the skills needed to avoid a weather-related accident in the air. If life gets a little turbulent now and then, push on and take the time to learn more about aviation weather. The resources are out there.
Paul Cianciolo is an associate editor and the social media lead for FAA Safety Briefing. He is a U.S. Air Force veteran and an auxiliary airman with Civil Air Patrol.