Generally speaking, pilots are anxious to know and do the right thing, especially when it comes to safety and to rules that we’re supposed to follow. In that spirit, I recently got a question on how GA pilots can 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.
“Required” vs “Encouraged”
Let’s start with 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.
The AIM goes on to state that operators not certificated under the 14 CFR part 119 are “encouraged” to use FAA/NWS products through Flight Service Stations, Direct User Access Terminal System (DUATS), and/or Flight Information Services-Broad¬cast (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, AFSS or DUAT/DUATs briefings that the AIM encourages GA pilots to use.
What’s the Big Deal?
So why the emphasis on these particular weather sources? 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 (such as the DUAT/DUATS and Lockheed Martin Flight Services) 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.
The point of encouraging GA pilots to use DUAT/DUATs or AFSS is to provide 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. DUAT/DUATS or AFSS briefings include all these elements, which are provided in a logical and predictable sequence.
Second, AFSS briefers are certified as pilot weather briefers, which means that they have been trained to translate and interpret National Weather Service 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. If there is an accident or incident, however, a documented official weather briefing would help show that the pilot complied with the 14 CFR 91.103 requirement to obtain “all available information” about the proposed flight.
Other Governmental Sources
Along with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), governmental agencies such as the NWS and its Aviation Weather Center – which includes Aviation Digital Data Service (ADDS) – display a wide range of weather information that can supplement data obtained through a standard briefing. As the AIM notes, however, some of this information may be derived from model data or experimental products. So be cautious and, as always when planning flights in a light GA aircraft, take a conservative approach to its use. (FAA Safety Briefing – MarApr 2015)