FAA Says Internet Preflights Better Than Flight Service Briefings


The FAA now says pilots should do their own preflight self-briefing on the internet before flying and use Flight Service “in a consultative capacity” if they run into trouble. The agency has issued an advisory circular (AC) that essentially codifies what most pilots have been doing for a decade or more. “The FAA considers that a self-briefing may be compliant with current federal aviation regulations,” noting that there is likely better information available from the myriad apps and websites devoted to that purpose than by phoning a briefer. “By self-briefing, pilots can often improve their knowledge of weather and aeronautical information. Flight Service personnel are available should a pilot need assistance.”

The AC was issued March 15 and acknowledges that aviation technology has moved on from the 1-800-WX-BRIEF number drilled into student pilots for decades and that it should only be used as a backup. “Pilots are encouraged to utilize online automated weather resources to conduct self-briefings prior to contacting Flight Service,” the AC says. “Pilots who have preflight weather/risk assessment and risk mitigation skills are better prepared to make in-flight decisions as real-time weather information is consumed. This allows Flight Service to become a consultative resource that can be utilized when needed.” The AC isn’t a rule or a law and a legal preflight can still be obtained from Flight Service to satisfy the regs.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

Other AVwebflash Articles


  1. And who’s fault is that? I’ll bet the FAA will eventually phase out FSS’s altogether as a cost cutting move. The FAA created this issue, it will be interesting to see how this really works out.

    • It will be a gigantic mistake if they do. I think the issue is funding. I have always used their services because they know what the hell is going on around you. They are consummate professionals and I think its a shame we are even having this discussion.

      I always encourage pilots/student pilots to use their services because I don’t want to see it taken away.

      They provide so much quality information that you can’t always get on your own. For example, parachuting hot spots, military operations, and gps testing. They know whats happening and on a moments notice.

      I will be very disappointed to see them discontinue this service. It will take away form the safety of flight to some degree. Situational Awareness!

      • In the old days, I fondly remember those little white FSS buildings that were — literally — all over the place. One time trying to ferry a T-41A from FL to IL and CA, I had to penetrate weather in GA. I landed at Alma and got the “straight skinny” from one of those guys you described. He DID save my bacon that day. I miss that, too. But THESE days … not so much. I once knew there’d be a Presidential TFR up north and called WX Brief and got some Cuban sounding guy in Miami who didn’t know anything about it.

      • Double Larry S’s comment. In the not quite good old days, I was preparing to depart Boulder County, Colorado for Kremmling on the other side of the pass. I called FSS 1800Brief when it was new. I got a guy in Miami who’d never seen the rockies. I finally got a number from him for Denver Radio direct and was able to talk to someone who was familiar with the local weather and terrain and how they interact. I agree that the internet weather brief is pretty good, but it is no substitute for local expertise and experience.

  2. All this will “work itself out” when our government ensures (guarantees?) communications and high speed internet access across all states.

    …. hey you … your face is turning blue.

  3. …and where does the FAA say to go for TFR info that is not just “advisory” (hint, not FIS-B, not FAA TFR page) Until that is fixed, EVERY flight gets a call to FSS if only to record my N#, TFR status request and FSS response on tape. Flying around DC and various POTUS’ weekend destinations, I pay close attention to this aspect.

    • And yet even if you do get an official TFR briefing, if there’s a pop-up one that they obviously can’t tell you about and you fly into it, you can still be violated. I think what’s needed more is for serious TFR reform…without the solution being “you need ADS-B In”.

  4. I discovered the new AC 91-92, Pilot’s Guide to a Preflight Briefing, just before a Flight Review two weeks ago. Accordingly, I poured over it and thought it was pretty well written and thorough. I’ve been doing self-briefings via internet sources for nearly 20 years so I thought that codifying this method as an acceptable alternative was a welcome change. I even printed Appendix A and B and had it laminated to use as a checklist. Now they can’t fault us if we’ve gone that route in pre-planning.

    Like Rich R said, however, if I were traveling cross country, I’d still phone to make sure they’d registered my N# as checking TFR’s. That use of its own FIS-B or TFR pages isn’t official is sad, however.

  5. I always told my students about the briefer and had them call in at least once. Then I explained that the app on their phone has all the same info, and they are free to use either resource. Most choose not to call.

    But I’ve always wondered about the ‘legal’ preflight briefing. What makes one legal and one not? §91.103 says we must “become familiar with all available information concerning that flight.” It does not say what source that information must come from.

    Is there a requirement to prove that I got a briefing? Or is it just a question that the NTSB and insurance company will ask after an accident?

    • I recommend that you get AC91-92 … it’s only 16 pages long, I think? It DOES say that using the internet is an acceptible — and even BETTER — alternative. If you print out Appendix A and B and tell your students to do the same, they can check off the data as they get it. If they were ramp checked or an accident occurred, they could produce that official FAA document with the data on it. It plainly says that the internet is now BETTER than their own briefers, in fact. They go on to say that either method is now acceptable. There’s even several pages of all the clickable web links to get the data for each category in their checklists.

  6. Not to be obstinate, but I’m not a meteorologist and have no desire to become one. I am a pilot, I have a very strong desire to fly safely, and I am very happy to rely on the meteorological knowledge and wisdom of FAA and it’s meteorological contractor for weather information. In my opinion, FAA got this one wrong. If their goal is to get out of the weather business (thus saving the cost of the contract) and force non-scheduled, non-commercial small business and pleasure pilots like me to buy meteorological wisdom the way airlines with dispatch departments and corporate operators who use weather vendors do, then they should just please say so. Pretending that waving an AC at me makes me as capable as a briefer to collect and interpret weather information is magical thinking; it is silly and dangerous.

    • Fifty+ years ago when I learned how to make the houses get smaller in NoCal, there was almost no good data sources for decent weather on TV. There wasn’t a plethora of WX satellites circling the globe so using the FSS and FAA was necessary … and that’s why there were SO many FSS’. Then, black and white sat images became available on TV. As time moved forward, the offerings got better and better. Then, 24hr WX channels came online. When the internet popped up, everything changed. When smart phones popped up, everything changed again. Now, with ADS-B in, it’s changed again. All AC 91-92 is doing is giving pilots the option officially. If you don’t feel confident, it plainly says you can use FAA sources over the phone. (Gee … I must have a fever … I’m defending the FAA). 🙂

      Twenty years ago when I worked in flight test ops for a major aerospace corp, I became the de facto weather person because I was pretty good at manipulating the internet sources. The boss didn’t like that and actually chewed me out for not using official FAA sources yet the pilots who were offshore “feet wet” always called for me by name when the weather was a problem and trusted MY judgement. My point being, it’s 2021. Learning to use internet sources isn’t hard. Even an old guy like me learned how to do it. I feel far more confident in my own briefings because I can SEE it and I can print it, if necessary. If you want to use FAA, AC91-92 says that’s fine, too. I like the fact that it’s now official … calling 1-800-WX-BRIEF is no longer necessary; pilot’s choice.

      Maybe it’s time for the FAA to put together a re-education program for everyone who has been flying a long time … to bring them up to speed. The weather hasn’t changed but the method of disseminating the wx data has changed immensely.

  7. I’m a little confused… If the TFRs are not posted here:
    Where are they posted? What secret place does the FSS get their TFRs?
    The wildfire people tell me they report directly to the FAA people that run this site. Does the VIP organizers report to a different FAA?

    • The root issue is a failure for anyone to take responsibility for providing definitive TFR status. The FAA page caveats it may not be up to date (probably no one minds the database after hours), their FIS-B feed is “advisory” and when you talk to the FSS briefer, you better make sure they know the DC area…and even then you often hear “as far as we know” or “there’s an issue where we may not have latest”…if FSS doesn’t then who does?? and my favorite is the blanket TFRs that the non-local PIC is supposed to know all sporting event skeds, weather delays, locations…my suggestion was if the stadium mgmt doesn’t request a TFR notam through an FAA defined process, it shouldn’t exist…but in addition to taking responsibility, someone would also need to take initiative to create and enforce that process…good luck with that! AOPA said they weren’t interested until someone got busted and then you’d get to be the lab rat. Flight following isn’t the answer because it’s also advisory, when they have time. At least we’re past the point of Secret Service wanting TFRs without wanting to tell anyone where they were because that would give the bad actors too much information. Bottom line, until someone grows a pair, FSS call is the expectation to defend yourself in the admin process that follows your time facedown on the ramp after the FSS screws up…get your TFR request on tape!

      So far my preflight TFR database watching and FSS calls have kept me out of trouble, just frustrated at the amount of weasel words to protect everyone but the PIC.