Flight service station

Flight service station

A flight service station (FSS) is an air traffic facility that provides information and services to aircraft pilots before, during, and after flights, but unlike air traffic control, is not responsible for giving instructions or clearances or providing separation. The people who communicate with pilots from an FSS are referred to as "specialists" rather than "controllers", although in the U.S., FSS specialists' official job title is air traffic control specialist - station.

The precise services offered by flight service stations vary by country, but typical FSS services may include providing preflight briefings including weather and notices to airmen (NOTAMs); filing, opening, and closing flight plans; monitoring navigational aids (NAVAIDs); collecting and disseminating pilot reports (PIREPs); offering traffic advisories to aircraft on the ground or in flight; relaying instructions or clearances from air traffic control; and providing assistance in an emergency. In many countries, flight service stations also operate at mandatory frequency airports to help co-ordinate traffic in the absence of air traffic controllers, and may take over a control tower frequency at a controlled airport when the tower is closed.

In most cases, it is possible to reach flight service stations either by radio in flight, or by telephone on the ground. Recently, some countries, such as Canada and the United States, have been consolidating flight services into large regional centres, replacing former local flight service stations with Remote Communications Outlets (RCOs) connected to the centres.

Flight services in different countries

Flight services in the United States

The United States has a national toll-free number, 800-WX-BRIEF (+1 800 992 7433), for obtaining flight services on the ground, and there is no charge for using flight services, either on the ground or in the air. The United States has a common FSS radio frequency of 122.2 MHz. Although not all remote communication outlets have 122.2 MHz, coverage should be available above 5,000 feet over most of the U.S. However, it is recommended to consult directories, charts or databases to find the discrete frequency of the nearest FSS outlet while in flight. Many U.S. FSS monitor the emergency frequency, 121.5 MHz, unless a control tower or en route ATC center is monitoring it. During daytime and evening hours, select FSS remote outlets offer a service called Flight watch on frequency 122.0 MHz and on discrete high altitude frequencies, offering a restricted set of FSS services (including en route hazardous weather updates and PIREPS mostly) provided by specialists with additional weather training. A few select locations in the conterminous 48 states have Airport Advisory Services provided by FSS either full-time or during hours that a control tower is closed. FSS in the U.S. no longer monitor navigational aids, having re-routed the monitoring to either control towers or technical personnel.

Historically, flight service stations in the USA have been operated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). In February 2005, the FAA selected Lockheed Martin to operate 58 flight service stations in the lower 49 states and Puerto Rico beginning in October 2005. Alaska FSS facilities continue to be operated by the FAA.

In 2007 Lockheed Martin consolidated the 58 FSS facilities into 3 large off-airport hub facilities in Ashburn, Virginia, Fort Worth, Texas and Prescott Valley, Arizona, and 15 remaining legacy facilities that work as an extension of the hubs. The legacy sites were upgraded to share the same computer system, FS-21, and database as the hubs.

In its 2006 annual report the FAA described this as the largest nonmilitary outsourcing initiative in the Federal government. [ [http://www.faa.gov/about/plans_reports/media/FAA%20FY%2006%20Highlights.pdf FAA 2006 Annual Report] (U.S.)] As part of the outsourcing project, the number of FSS has declined from 58 to 20. [http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/aba/budgets_brief/media/bib2008.pdf FAA 2008 Budget Summary]

According to Lockheed Martin, the FSS handled more than 236,000 calls during June 2007. [ [http://www.afss.com/pm/ Lockheed Martin Flight Service website] (U.S.)] This is down almost 50% from the same period in 2006, which recorded almost half a million calls. [ [http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/aba/admin_factbook/media/August_2006_Fact_Book.pdf FAA Administrator's Fact Book] (U.S.)] This represents the frustration in the aviation community from Lockheed's switch to their new computer system, called FS21, beginning in February, 2007, which resulted in massive delays. The number of calls from 2006, prior to the switchover, was in itself a drop of almost 30% from 2005, before the outsourcing. Part of this can also be attributed to the reduction in Flight Service Specialists from almost 2,000 in 2005 to less than 850 through the summer of 2007, to roughly 1,000 in the fourth quarter of FY 2008. This drop is paralleled by a rise in the number of self-briefing options available to pilots and the drop in capacity in the AFSS system.

Although 2008 is not completed, many changes have occurred since the beginning of the year. All Flight Data and Inflight contacts are now directed to the three main hubs. The remaining legacy sites have been cut back to pre-flight briefings only and operating times at those sites reflect the changes, with the exception of Miami and Oakland. The FS-21 system has undergone many changes, but has been determined to be unworkable and a replacement system, BABS, is under development with full rollout expected by 2010. A rise in call volume to almost half the former capacity has been seen through May and June.

Flight services in Canada

In Canada, nearly all FSS monitor the frequency 126.7 MHz, which is also the common en route frequency for flight in Canada, as well as 121.5 MHz, the emergency frequency. On the ground, pilots can reach a flight service station toll-free by calling 866-WX-BRIEF (+1 866 992-7433) from Canada, the United States, Mexico, or the Caribbean. Unlike in the United States, pilots are required to file flight plans or flight itineraries for non-local flights in Canada, and flight plans are opened automatically at the planned time of departure; as a result, flight service stations play a prominent role managing those plans, collecting position reports from pilots en route, and attempting to locate pilots who have not closed flight plans (and initiating search and rescue operations when necessary). There is no per-use charge for flight services, but aircraft owners are required to pay an annual fee to NAV CANADA to support all air traffic services, both FSS and air traffic control (for a light private aircraft, the fee is approximately CAD 70/year). Foreign aircraft entering Canada are sometimes billed a partial fee.

Canada has many mandatory frequency airports, which have enough traffic to justify special rules, but not enough to justify a control tower. Many of these airports have an onsite FSS that pilots are required to contact, while others have remote outlets controlled by an FSS in a different location.

Until 1996, the Canadian federal government operated all air traffic services (FSS and air traffic control) through Transport Canada, a government department. Currently, a private non-profit corporation, NAV CANADA, operates both FSS and air traffic control, and have significantly modernized the system while at the same time, have replaced most local FSS with large centralized Flight Information Centres (FIC), which provide the standard FSS services. The remaining flight service stations are now classified as airport advisory sites; they can provide airport advisories, vehicle control, weather observations, clearance delivery, local weather information, and some will be providing remote advisory services. These remaining stations generally have limited hours, limited personnel and are no longer responsible for flight planning of any sort. The FIC's have assumed the responsibility for any flight plans, filing, inflight alerting, flight plan closures and interpretive weather briefings. The FIC's also have large areas they are overseeing and have networks of RCO's, some of which are co-located with advisory sites. The FIC's are similar in function and scope to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) automated FSS system in the United States. The last northern FSS, at Whitehorse International Airport has been designated as an FIC. [ [http://www.navcanada.ca/NavCanada.asp?Language=en&Content=ContentDefinitionFiles%5CcontactUs%5Cdefault.xml Pilot Briefing Service/Flight Planning] (Canada)] North Bay FIC is tied into the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) North Warning System (NWS) radar system, and has a vast network of 23 RCO's located across Canada's Arctic coast. The 3 northern hub's also assist and oversee the "Community Airport Radio Station" (CARS) program.

ee also

* Air traffic control
* Flight plan
* Mandatory frequency airport
* Flight Information Centre

External links

* [http://afss.com/ Lockheed Martin AFSS]
* [http://www.faa.gov/airports_airtraffic/air_traffic/publications/at_orders/media/FSS.pdf Flight Services 7110.10]
* [http://www.skypark.org/Tempfiles/071004card.pdf Quick Reference Card - FS21]
* [http://www.faa.gov/airports%5Fairtraffic/air%5Ftraffic/publications/atpubs/aim/Chap4/aim0401.html U.S. Aeronautical Information Manual, Section 4-1-3] . 2006


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