Prior to every flight, pilots should gather all information vital to the nature of the flight. This includes an appropriate weather briefing obtained from a specialist at a FSS.
For weather specialists to provide an appropriate weather briefing, they need to know which of the three types of briefings is needed—standard, abbreviated, or outlook. Other helpful information is whether the flight is visual flight rules (VFR) or IFR, aircraft identification and type, departure point, estimated time of departure (ETD), flight altitude, route of flight, destination, and estimated time en route (ETE).
This information is recorded in the flight plan system and a note is made regarding the type of weather briefing provided. If necessary, it can be referenced later to file or amend a flight plan. It is also used when an aircraft is overdue or is reported missing.
A standard briefing provides the most complete information and a more complete weather picture. This type of briefing should be obtained prior to the departure of any flight and should be used during flight planning. A standard briefing provides the following information in sequential order if it is applicable to the route of flight.
- Adverse conditions—this includes information about adverse conditions that may influence a decision to cancel or alter the route of flight. Adverse conditions include significant weather, such as thunderstorms or aircraft icing, or other important items such as airport closings.
- VFR flight not recommended—if the weather for the route of flight is below VFR minimums, or if it is doubtful the flight could be made under VFR conditions due to the forecast weather, the briefer may state “VFR flight not recommended.” It is the pilot’s decision whether or not to continue the flight under VFR, but this advisory should be weighed carefully.
- Synopsis—an overview of the larger weather picture. Fronts and major weather systems that affect the general area are provided.
- Current conditions—the current ceilings, visibility, winds, and temperatures. If the departure time is more than 2 hours away, current conditions are not included in the briefing.
- En route forecast—a summary of the weather forecast for the proposed route of flight.
- Destination forecast—a summary of the expected weather for the destination airport at the estimated time of arrival (ETA).
- Forecast winds and temperatures aloft—a forecast of the winds at specific altitudes for the route of flight. The forecast temperature information aloft is provided only upon request.
- Notices to Airmen (NOTAM)—information pertinent to the route of flight that has not been published in the NOTAM publication. Published NOTAM information is provided during the briefing only when requested.
- ATC delays—an advisory of any known ATC delays that may affect the flight.
- Other information—at the end of the standard briefing, the FSS specialist provides the radio frequencies needed to open a flight plan and to contact EFAS. Any additional information requested is also provided at this time.
An abbreviated briefing is a shortened version of the standard briefing. It should be requested when a departure has been delayed or when weather information is needed to update the previous briefing. When this is the case, the weather specialist needs to know the time and source of the previous briefing so the necessary weather information is not omitted inadvertently. It is always a good idea for the pilot to update the weather information whenever he/she has additional time.
An outlook briefing should be requested when a planned departure is 6 hours or more away. It provides initial forecast information that is limited in scope due to the time frame of the planned flight. This type of briefing is a good source of flight planning information that can influence decisions regarding route of flight, altitude, and ultimately the go/no-go decision. A prudent pilot requests a follow-up briefing prior to departure since an outlook briefing generally only contains information based on weather trends and existing weather in geographical areas at or near the departure airport. A standard briefing near the time of departure ensures that the pilot has the latest information available prior to his/her flight.
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