Air to Ground
AFSS Flight Services – Part 1
Pilots pretty well know that the responsibilities of Center and Tower are to keep aircraft from hitting each other and anything else that could get in the way. They have a plethora of procedures to accomplish this depending on their location. Flight Service responsibilities are more diverse, and so I can see it could be confusing.
Although there are variations, the average Flight Service facility divides its responsibilities into Pre-flight, Inflight (Radio), Flight Watch, Broadcast, NOTAM and Flight Data. This month I will go over the basics of Preflight, Flight Data and NOTAM, and next month we will look at Radio and Flight Watch.
Preflight – Primarily responsible for filing flight plans and giving weather briefings. They will also take information from pilots coming into the U.S. to notify U.S. Customs that the aircraft is on the way in. This is NOT a flight plan; those must be filed with an AFSS in the country the aircraft is departing from. The Preflight Briefer does this by telephone only. Using the 1-800-WXBRIEF phone number will get you to a briefer.
Which briefer in which facility is not as predictable as it used to be. The Lockheed Martin (LM) Flight Service operations center has the ability to direct the calls coming into that phone number to any Flight Service in the country in order to hopefully keep the pilot’s hold time to a minimum. For instance, when Seattle AFSS is short staffed the computer will send their overflow to Prescott AFSS.
Since we all have access to the same or similar weather and NOTAM data, this works for the most part. The LM Operations Center routes the pilot to the Flight Service in or around the area of the area of country he asks for when calling first; then if all those briefers are busy, it will spiral outbound until it finds someone.
There are instances where a pilot has questions that relate to something that is well known only to the Flight Service in a specific area. In this case the Briefer he is talking to may transfer him to the Flight Service in that area, and he will then stay on hold until one of those specialists is free. An example of this would be a pilot wanting to know about the special flight rules in effect at the Grand Canyon.
Flight Data is a very busy position that is seldom seen by a pilot unless he is calling for an IFR Clearance over the phone. The Clearance Delivery phone number at every AFSS goes directly to this position. Flight Data is responsible for coordination with other Air Traffic facilities and AFSS’s, U.S. Customs, the Fire Service, military Baseops, airport managers and just about everyone else.
Search and Rescue activities are initiated at Flight Data. They also catch and correct errors made in flight plans by other positions, and enter the flight plans that pilots record through the Fast File phone system. Flight Data transmits accident/incident messages to those who need them.
Likewise, the NOTAM position is not normally contacted by the pilots directly, though airport managers and other air traffic facilities frequently call into this position. The NOTAM position at an AFSS issues the Distant (D) NOTAMs for the airports and airspace under the responsibility of their AFSS. For Albuquerque AFSS, this includes all of New Mexico plus the southwestern three counties in Texas.
Flight Service does not issue FDC NOTAMs or Temporary Flight Restrictions. I will be discussing NOTAMS more thoroughly in an upcoming article.
Next month we will cover the radio, flight watch and broadcast positions.
Rose Marie Kern works at Lockheed Martin’s AFSS. If you’d like to ask Rose a question concerning ATC and the Lockheed Martin AFSS’s, send her an email at email@example.com.