The number of pilots using aviation apps for getting preflight weather information continues to rise while calls to Flight Service specialists decrease, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s (AOPA) 2021 Weather Survey. The organization also found that less than one-third of survey respondents reported familiarity with FAA Advisory Circular 91-92 (PDF), which discusses the “development and implementation of preflight self-briefings.” In addition, the FAA’s weather camera program saw heavy use among respondents from Alaska where the program launched. AOPA further noted that the number of unsolicited PIREPs filed has remained flat in spite of efforts to increase filing.
“Survey results over the past few years show a change in how pilots gather weather information prior to flight,” AOPA said in its survey report (PDF). “Use of aviation apps continues to increase, allowing more pilots to conduct self-briefings. While usage of Flight Service specialists is down for this service, their role as an information source that can respond to questions remains important to pilots.”
AOPA has conducted the Weather Survey, which is designed to study how pilots access weather information, annually for the last five years. The 2021 survey received responses from 2,409 pilots from the continental U.S., 148 from Alaska and 7 from Hawaii. Fifty-three percent of respondents were private pilots, 54 percent were instrument current and 67 percent flew single-engine piston, fixed-gear aircraft.
I often find myself wondering how we did it before Foreflight.
Lots of time with the calculator, chart, rulers and red pencil. Phone calls to 1-800-BRIEF and frantic note taking, all with superimposed uncertainty and old information.
In general I’m against technology for technology’s sake, but this does represent a big improvement in convenience and safety.
How “we” did it before ForeFlight was to get close to the primary source which was the good old Flight Service Station before people hated government just to be hip. Then 1(800) 992 7433 came along and you got a government employee who could paint a picture dammed near as good as any graphic radar picture today. To top that off, that weather briefer also knew the local area very well ventured off script and told you what he or she thought was really going to happen based on his or her experience in the area. Then came privatization of the FSS system.
After extensive conversation with FAA contact person for briefing education outreach, circling around questions on preflight TFR proof of due diligence vs utility, I continue to call FSS before EVERY flight to put my tail number, TFR update request and FSS response on tape. Our conversation was joined by an outside aviation lawyer the FAA contact respects who recommends and makes the same call before EVERY flight.
Flying around DC SFRA, P40 and past Wilmington “weekend White House” where the VIP TFR time/dates change multiple times every week, including moving start time earlier less than 12 hours before effectivity makes me perhaps a bit more concerned about how my effort would hold up to enforcement attempt should I bust a TFR I wasn’t aware of.
Until I see FAA legal opinion supporting use of electronic briefing as proof of TFR due diligence (along with FAA TFR webpage dropping disclaimer and TFR email notifications not directing to 1800WXBRIEF for latest updates) FAA “education” effort will not change my procedure to call FSS after going through an electronic briefing…and yes that’s even with Foreflight and “ADS-B in” (you might want to check disclaimers on those sources)…and even if you’re fortunate enough to get flight following (workload permitting), same disclaimer applies there too.
Foreflight (and I assume most efb apps) allow you to print or email yourself a copy of the briefing. Is that not sufficient proof of prior planning?
I was one of the FSS Briefers who not only briefed but did weather observations, teletype, and inflight radio work as well as monitored the different nav facilities, and provided emergency services like DF Steers, and inflight weather briefs. I worked at Detroit FSS at Detroit City Airport, Key West FSS at the Key West Airport, and San Juan IFSS at San Juan’s Airport. During all these places I was still a rated pilot and Gold Seal Instructor. It came in very handy as I talked people through some very critical flights that ended up very successful and nobody got hurt or aircraft bent. As was said, knowing the local are (100 miles around you) like the back of your hand and knowing many of the aircraft flown that a pilot would call gave me an advantage of not only calming the pilot down but getting the best performance out of the aircraft. As an example I had a pilot who got lost over the gulf and was in a panic. Coast Guard was talking to him but I could see they were both going in opposite direction and losing each other. I jumped in and provided a DF steer to Key West since the aircraft was SW of Key West. He was low on fuel so I first got him to fly toward the extended island chain west of Key West in case his aircraft ran out of fuel. I had him follow the islands and throttle back to a power setting that made him slower but gave him better range, trim the aircraft, and prepare him and his passengers in case of an off airport landing. He made it to within sight of Key West so I called the tower and told them what I had coming in. They cleared him to land and I relayed it to the pilot. He shot a straight in approach and in the landing roll out he ran out of fuel. All in a days work. Now how is that FSS specialist in LA going to do that for the same guy safely? How much was that worth to get on the ground in Key West rather than splash down in the Gulf? How much were his life and those of his passengers worth?
As anti-big-government as I am, I have to agree that the present “semi-automated” FSS is a disappointment compared to the “Hands-On” FSS folks.
As good as DF was (and still is, if the target aircraft is outside of radar coverage, can you imagine how effective it would be to also give an ADDS-B plot to a LOCAL FSS person today? Couple that with the knowledge of local airports–it can’t be beat.
There is no substitute for a voice that can help interpret the weather as well. Many private pilots don’t know the questions to ask–or the meaning in forecasts–or reasonable alternates. An FSS briefer can provide that.
Couple that with the FSS airport advisory at their “home stations”–it was “almost a tower”–bridging the gap between smaller airport operations and those with towers.
I fly about 500 hours a year–more than most GA pilots–in everything from antiques to seaplanes to King Airs to gliders and balloons, but I can think of only 3 times that I’ve used the “new and improved” LEIDOS FSS in the last 3 years. It’s easier and faster to self-brief and file–and don’t have to put up with annoying “menus” of the “new and improved version.” As shown by the decline in briefings and PIREPS mentioned above, it appears that I’m not alone.
I have now been flying for 48 years, and I have to agree that the quality of Flight Service has been much eroded. I too have been depending on Electronic Flight Bag apps for the majority of my briefings. Early in my flying career The voice of the Flight Service Specialist helped me out of some difficult situations.
The retirement of the DF steer is understandable in todays GPS world, but I expect that something akin to that service could suddenly become very valuable in a real GPS outage. Many of the VFR flights fly at low enough altitude that even the unfinished VOR backup plan could not help.
Lastly I agree that a call to Flight Service for a TFR check is still a good Idea. When I still lived and flew in the NE US I always did this and I think will get back to it again. Also, make sure your Flight Service account is current or you can’t even check notams. (Happened to me recently)
Not at all surprising. What information do the briefers have that I don’t?