The Scoop on Self-Briefings
By Susan K. Parson, FAA Safety Briefing Magazine Editor
When I learned to fly in the late 1990s, the drill for getting an aviation weather briefing was to call or visit a Flight Service Station (FSS). Back then, my home airport was co-located with an actual, no-kidding FSS with student-pilot-friendly briefers always at the counter. On my second or third lesson, my instructor escorted me into the FSS to make introductions and oversee my very first briefing. Then and ever after — the expectation was that I would always stop by the FSS before reporting to my instructor — I walked out with the evidence inscribed on a stack of dot-matrix-printed paper.
Like most other pilots, today I enjoy the convenience of acquiring aviation-specific weather information from many sources, to include apps on my iPhone (and a few that also work on my smartwatch). Some of my fellow self-briefers wonder, though, how to be sure they are getting a “legal” or “approved” weather briefing. This topic is of particular interest in an era where the number of sources, formats, and delivery methods is large and growing all the time.
AIM for the Bottom Line
As explained in Chapter 7 of the Aeronautical Information Manual (7–1–3), air carriers and operators certificated under the provisions of 14 CFR part 119 are required to use the aeronautical weather information systems defined in the Operations Specifications issued to that certificate holder by the FAA. Part of this approval includes FAA acceptance or approval of the procedures for collecting, producing, and disseminating aeronautical weather information, as well as the crew member and dispatcher training to support the use of system weather products.
So, what about the rest of us? The AIM states that operators not certificated under 14 CFR part 119 are “encouraged” to use FAA/National Weather Service products through today’s Automated Flight Service Stations (AFSS) or Flight Information Services-Broadcast (FIS-B). In a nutshell, then:
- 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 the AFSS briefings that the AIM encourages GA pilots to use.
As noted in the AIM (also in 7–1–3(f)):
(W)eather services provided by entities other than FAA, National Weather Service (NWS), or their contractors may not meet FAA/NWS quality control standards. Hence, operators and pilots contemplating using such services should request and/or review an appropriate description of services and provider disclosure. This should include, but is not limited to, the type of weather product (e.g., current weather or forecast weather), the currency of the product (i.e., product issue and valid times), and the relevance of the product.
Encouraging GA pilots to use AFSS provides several benefits. The first is a known, comprehensive, and standardized weather briefing product. The FAA specifies the elements that must be included for standard, abbreviated, and outlook briefings. AFSS briefings include all these elements, provided in a logical and predictable sequence.
Second, AFSS briefers are certified as pilot weather briefers, which means they are trained to translate and interpret NWS products. The briefer can thus explain things that may not be immediately apparent to the pilot and respond to questions about specific altitudes, routes, and locations.
The third benefit is that there is a record that the pilot received a specific type of weather briefing at a specific date and time. Does it matter? GA pilots are not required to use “approved” weather. Neither I nor my colleagues are aware of enforcement actions for a “bad” weather source. However, if there is an accident or incident, a documented official weather briefing would help show that the pilot complied with the 14 CFR section 91.103 requirement to obtain “all available information.”
Susan K. Parson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of FAA Safety Briefing and a Special Assistant in the FAA’s Flight Standards Service. She is a general aviation pilot and flight instructor.