July 1, 2009
Charles E. Tackett
Ask Lockheed Martin flight service specialists what they want pilots to know about the services offered, and you will get very quick, specific answers. So, what are the top 10 things you should know?
Lockheed Martin’s pilot profile feature was designed for you, and every pilot should take a moment to put one on file. The next time you call 800/WX-BRIEF, spend a little extra time and tell your briefer that you want to set up a profile. You’ll be asked a few questions, and the next time you get a briefing or file a flight plan, the specialist will be able to access this information easily, saving you time. Provide your cell, home, or office phone number, and the next time you call, we can look your profile up with this number. You also can code a common last name, for example “Smith135,” for faster retrieval. Simply let the briefer know what special identifier you want to use for your name.
The FAA requires flight service specialists to ask for certain background information before providing a weather briefing in order to ensure the most accurate, up-to-date information is provided for your route—from taxi to final destination.
If you should forget to close your flight plan, you’re not going to get fined. Many pilots are under that impression and, as a result, do not file flight plans. For safety precautions, pilots are encouraged to file flight plans—they enable you to get assistance much quicker if something were to happen on your flight.
The purpose of an abbreviated briefing is to provide you with specific items you have requested to update a standard briefing or mass disseminated information. If you ask for more than two items, specialists are required by the FAA to ask if you want a standard briefing. If you ask for an updated briefing, just let the briefer know what time you had your last standard briefing. If it was the night before, get another standard. If it was a couple of hours ago, an abbreviated briefing will allow specialists to provide any new information since that time.
Pilot reports provide an excellent look at actual conditions. This data advises the National Weather Service and other pilots that weather and adverse conditions are as forecasted, have improved, or have deteriorated since the forecasts were issued. The FAA has put strict measures on the accuracy of pilot reports that specialists enter into the system. Any error on the specialists part is viewed as a failure by the FAA. As a result, when you are ready to file a report, specialists ask that you allow them to prompt you on the elements needed so that they can get your report quickly and accurately.
Flight service specialists have all the time it takes to provide you with information for a safe flight. Please do not rush when requesting a briefing or filing your flight plan. Always feel free to ask questions about any item of the briefing.
VFR flight plans filed with other vendors (such as DUATs) are sent to Lockheed Martin only for activation. If you need to change your route, add a stop, or make other changes, contact the vendor directly or re-file your flight plan through FSS.
Different time zones are difficult to keep up with (5 p.m.in Boston is not the same as 5 p.m. in Seattle), but Zulu/UTC time is always the same. (See this handy time conversion chart.)
Even with advanced filtering systems, distractions from background noise often occur. Engines running, a radio playing, people talking, waiters taking orders, babies crying, dogs barking and other background noise make it difficult for a specialist to hear your information without a continuous “Say again, please” request.
Lockheed Martin Flight Services wants to be your copilot—there to serve you 24/7. Many briefers are also pilots, so they understand the importance of a good weather briefing.
Charles E. Tackett is manager of external operations for Lockheed Martin Flight Services, which manages the Automated Flight Service Stations program for the FAA. Lockheed provides aviation safety seminars, works with aviation organizations to set up speaking engagements, and gives weather briefings on-site at major events. If you have any suggests or ideas for Lockheed, send feedback through their online form.
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