April 10, 2015

As more pilots are turning to websites and electronic apps for their pre-flight planning, the FAA is making changes to the way its flight service stations operate.

The plan calls for axing little-used services and eliminating redundancies – all aimed at cutting costs and improving efficiency, according to the agency.

Changes, which are slated to begin by mid-2015, include consolidating Flight Watch, the in-flight weather advisory service. After Oct. 1, advisories will be obtained through the regular FSS frequency. The FAA is also proposing to phase out remote airport advisory (RAA) service at 19 airports. RAA service provides wind and altimeter monitoring within 10 miles of certain high-activity general aviation airports where a control tower isn’t operating.

The proposal will soon be posted in the Federal Register for public comment.

Long-term flight service changes include:

  • Having an air traffic controller specialize in handling distress calls on the 121.5 MHz emergency frequency
  • Transitioning the standard FAA flight plan form 7233-1 and requiring all flight plans to follow the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) format
  • Automatic opening and closing of flight plans
  • Having pilots speak directly to air traffic control to request an IFR clearance

John Kosak, an NBAA Air Traffic Services specialist, said he is optimistic that the transition form the old FAA flight plans to the ICAO format will yield benefits for NBAA Members. “The ICAO flight plan allows for more detailed and accurate information regarding the crew and aircraft capabilities for each phase of flight; departure, en route and arrival,” he said. “This allows air traffic control to make sure that operators are placed on the best route possible, saving time and money.”

Flight service isn’t going away, however, and pilots can still get a live standard briefing over the telephone – for now. Flight services in Alaska will not change, according to the FAA. Lockheed Martin, the contractor that operates the FAA’s flight service stations, is working to streamline briefings and provide information that’s specific to the route of flight, said Kosak. However, with the emphasis on automation, Kosak cautions that the FAA must ensure it has the necessary supporting equipment. “It’s important to have the servers and phone lines to handle the demand,” he said.