With today’s plethora of technology, making a phone call before a flight for a weather briefing seems like an unnecessary step – on the surface.  After all, programs like Foreflight can give you a step by step briefing of weather, notams, forecasts and more.  But even with these tools, I still call Flight Service (1-800-WX-BRIEF) before each flight I take. Let’s look at some of the benefits of the call.

 

Let’s Start With What You Need
When you call 1-800-WX-BRIEF, you can either speak your selection (say “BRIEFER”) or use the keypad to dial your selection. You’ll then be asked for the state you are departing from. In my experience, you’ll want to be in a low noise environment for the call so that the voice recognition doesn’t pick up on background noise, halting the process.  Once you are the line with the briefer, ask for the type of briefing you’d like: standard (full), abbreviated(select items), or outlook (6+ hours until flight).  Provide the following information, starting with your tail number.

Tail number
Flight rules (VFR)
Aircraft Type
Departure Airport
Time off
Altitude
Destination
Time enroute

Caption

Using a Flight Plan form can help guide what a briefer needs. “Good morning, this is N9XF calling for a standard VFR briefing. We are a Cessna 172 departing Thomson McDuffie – HQU – at 1530Z. Our altitude is 6500 feet enroute to Smyrna – MQY. Time enroute is 3 hours.”

 

Discover Temporary Flight Restrictions
Simply put, a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) is an area you can’t fly through. You can’t find them on a chart due to their temporary nature.  TFRs can happen for disaster relief, emergency response to an incident on the ground, crowded sightseeing areas, national security, or in the vicinity of public figures such as the president. They can come and go quickly, but a briefer can get you the most up to date into.  On a recent flight back from Nashville, my briefer informed me of a TFR just outside of my intended route of flight. It was initiated by the police in Franklin, Tennessee, not far from us. Hanging up the phone, I asked my wife if she had heard what was going on there.  She found the news story here.

Caption

This screen grab from Foreflight shows a recent Presidential TFR in Atlanta. You might want to pay attention to those. 

 

Put It On The Record
When you call and speak with a briefer, the phone call is recorded. This is a helpful record of a key component of your preflight planning. The most common beneficial scenario discussed is the TFR. In the case above, I learned of the TFR from the briefer. Situation avoided. Had I not called a briefer and flown through that TFR, I would have had some folks looking for some answers from me. Had I called the briefer before the TFR was put up and then flown through it, I would have had a recorded phone conversation of me getting the information that my route of flight had no TFRs. That’s a good leg to stand on when I’m being asked why I flew through it.

Caption

Your weather briefings are on record, which can be very beneficial to you as a pilot. Does anyone have a tape player?

 

Get A Weather Briefing
Even with some incredible resources these days, you really can’t know it all about the weather around you. These briefers are more knowledgable and plugged in to the weather than I could ever be, so I rely on their expertise even after I have thoroughly researched the weather. If there is anything they see that would prevent my flight from being safely conducted under Visual Flight Rules (VFR), they would begin with telling me that VFR flight is not recommended, along with the reasons.  This doesn’t mean that you let them make your decision to fly or not – it’s just a good filter to run your decisions through.

image

The weather can change quickly.  Getting an update to a previous forecast is vital – forecasts aren’t guarantees. 

 

Get Your Questions Answered
As a student pilot, or even a new private pilot, it can be daunting to talk with a briefer. Are you saying everything you need to? Are you saying it correctly? Did you get all they told you? In reality, I’ve found them to be extremely helpful with explaining things further, repeating themselves, and even helping with chart questions. I saw a box on my sectional chart that said “Caution: Laser Light Activity.”  I wasn’t sure what it referred to. I asked the question and they actually researched it and called me back with the answer.  If you are a student pilot, or just not super comfortable with it, just let them know that.  Knowing you are new to the game will help them cater the briefing to you.

Caption

It’s ok to include that you are a student pilot, or just new to the service. 

 

Time To Fly

Flight Service is much more than just a weather briefing.  When I call for a briefing, I do get the weather. But then I also get a layer of redundancy, and most of aviation is built on multiple layers of redundancy. I get a second opinion. I get a second pair of eyes on the weather. Eyes that have been watching the weather the whole day, and countless days before that.  But perhaps the best part of the call, aside from solidifying my decision to fly, is that I get a friendly voice telling me to have a great flight.  Gas up the plane, gentlemen. It’s time to fly.

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2 Comments

  1. Anonynous

    #2 all the way. It’s free insurance, so use it.

    Reply
    • Joey

      NOTAMs….NOTAMs…. NOTAMs !!!

      Reply

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