Should FSS be at AirVenture & SNF?

August 8, 2013 by Bruce Landsberg

eaalFailure to get a weather briefing is often cited as a contributing factor in fatal accidents. The question is why? Some pilots apparently operate under the theory that if you don’t think you’ll like the answer, don’t ask the question. Operating safely in and around weather makes that strategy suspect. There are many sources where one can get weather these days and if you’re capable of self-briefing, that’s fine. But, and I’ve fussed about this before, the FAA steadfastly refuses to be responsible for graphical TFR info from any source, including their own website, unless it comes directly from the flight service station (FSS). Y’all be careful out there!

An AOPA member and Foundation donor at EAA AirVenture asked what I thought about FSS NOT being available to the masses at the event. In past years the FSS occupied a busy corner of the FAA building, and from early morning until quitting time they were always doing a very good business in explaining the weather and TFRs, if any, assisting with notams, and the all-important filing of flight plans.

But not this year! It also was the case at Sun ‘n Fun. Could this be related to a shortfall in government funds (sequestration) or something else? We’re asking a few questions of our friends at the FAA.

It just seems like a good idea to make in-person weather briefings available to the masses of pilots at OSH during EAA AirVenture. A key factor here is interpretation, as opposed to just reading the forecasts and METARs. To be sure, some briefings are more like readings; adding little value to what is available online. But the ability to have a discussion and collaborate—even though the final decision always rests with the PIC—is helpful to many.

VFR into IMC and convective encounters are two staples of summer flying accidents, and you need to know what’s out there. We lose an average of about three aircraft per month, and with the concentration of aircraft at AirVenture and SNF this seems like a good investment. We could start another discussion relative to air traffic control towers but hold that thought!

Of course, the flip side of the argument as quoted from FAR 61.105, the aeronautical knowledge portion of what every private pilot should have mastered, is that of paragraph (b)(6): “Recognition of critical weather situations from the ground and in flight, wind shear avoidance, and the procurement and use of aeronautical weather reports and forecasts.” How you get those reports and forecasts apparently is your problem at places like OSH.

You can get almost anything from the web, including airmets, sigmets, pireps, METARs, and TAFs, but no reliable graphic TFR data and no opportunity to discuss. If anyone called FSS during the show, we’d like to hear how well that worked—long hold times, etc.

If the FAA is going to cherry-pick services they are going to offer, perhaps it would be good if the users had an opportunity to weigh in as well. What do you think?

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Karl Summers

    I was at Airventure 2013. Me and another fellow in my group departed on Friday morning. Getting a briefing was easy. No waiting.

  • drew

    there are many additional reasons beyond briefing that fss should be there at at least 3 locations

    provide shade or rainshelter from awful osh weather
    provide in person relationship development
    get to know the problems and difficulties from the other side of the table or phone or computer screen
    my tax dollar at work.
    finding out about services beyond weather ( graphical tfr interpretation for instance.)
    the list goes on

  • Bob

    I haven’t called for a breifing in years. I use duats and other sites before all flights. Maybe a bank of phones with tables and chairs for filight planning could be provided. Adding computers with each phone would be even better. This would allow a phone brief while viewing weather online.

  • Michael Delmastro

    There was much conversation in the North 40 about the missing services. Aside from the practical safety and security (TFR identification) services FSS has provided to Oshkosh pilots, this was clearly a missed opportunity for the FAA to promote FSS to a broad pilot population.

  • Dave Stamp

    With all the iPad weather app and flight planning vendors there it is just as easy to get a briefing in their booths as the FSS. Assuming that you didn’t bring your own iPad or iPhone with you.

  • Randy Coller

    Haven’t had an in person briefing in years. Don’t need one. With all the resources available on the web, I’d much rather do my own briefing than receive it from someone who has no clue as to my abilities and experience. The need for Flight Service is greatly diminished these days.

  • Jeff Veers

    While I seldom call FSS for briefings anymore, an event like Airventure is certainly a place where having briefers on hand would be useful. I think the FAA is being penny wise but pound foolish this year extracting fees and reducing services for large Airshows like this. I would love to see an estimate of the $$ already added to FAA’s coffers by these events through fuel taxes!

  • Beth Smith

    I didn’t go to Oshkosh this year, but the same thing will happen at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Oct, since the FAA is trying to charge huge amounts for that, too. If part of their mission SAFETY they sure haven’t been focused on that lately.
    While I usually get an online DUAT briefing, in the past, having FSS on-site has been very, very helpful. Online, you can’t ask questions or get clarifications. You can’t get info on where to look for specific micro-meteorological conditions. Their physical presence was a big plus!

  • http://Blog.aopa Bob O’Neill

    The in person allows the briefer to taylor information to your intended route and altitude of flight. Briefers will note if VFR flight is not advised and let you change yout flight plan to IFR. Conversation is always better than a cold computer. Give me a briefer anytime. The FAA is slowly but surely walking away from it’s core responsibility!

  • Bob Kisin

    I missed having the briefers at AirVenture this year. Being able to sit in front of the computer screen with a briefer has been an educational experience which has affected how I perceive what the briefers are describing while interpreting the weather on the phone. I’ve learned how to interpret what I see on my computer screen. I also think the live briefers are a superb public relations opportunity for the FAA. Pilots get a chance to humanize those anonymous voices, and develop a more personal relationship with the system.

    In addition, hearing that EAA has been charged almost half a million dollars, while services that have always been available are withdrawn after being paid for, is a huge PR fail on the part of the FAA. They should have been there!

  • Claude Levasseur

    No public pay phones were available this year on the entire site at Oshkosh. I heard that all the pay phones were removed in the spring. I had to take the bus ride to the FBO on the East side in order to get a weather Brief and to file a flight plan.

  • FSS Briefer

    Some pilots LIKE talking to a real person. DUATS/ DUAT can throw you a ton of info a time, and there is a possibility that you could over look something. I might be partial to live briefings because its might job, but I do notice pilots overlooking TFRs, enroute notams (GPS outages, Navaid outages, and Freq outages), and Airspace notams.

    If you are going to do it on your own, becareful…at the end of the day it falls on you.