Flight service station
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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 (ATC), is not responsible for giving instructions or clearances or providing separation. The people who communicate with pilots from an FSS are referred to as Flight Service Specialists.
The precise services offered by 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) and airport surface weather observations; offering traffic advisories to aircraft on the ground or in flight; relaying instructions or clearances from air traffic control; relaying information from or about airborne aircraft to their home bases, military bases or homeland security, providing weather advisories to aircraft inflight, initiating search and rescue on missing VFR aircraft, 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
In the United States, the Flight Service Station (FSS) national toll-free number is, 800-WX-BRIEF (+1-800-992-7433) and the service is free of charge both on the ground and in the air. The United States FSS radio frequencies are published in several FAA publications including Airport Facility Directories (AFD), VFR sectional maps and IFR Low and High Altitude Enroute Charts. Radio frequency coverage is designed to be available above 5,000 ft (1,500 m) over most of the US. Both FSS and ATC monitors the emergency frequency, 121.5 MHz.
History of flight service in the United States
During World War 1, the Army used aircraft primarily for reconnaissance and while doing so developed processes for flight planning, recording weather observations, and the steps to be taken to find overdue aircraft. After the war, the Army assisted the U.S. Post Office in developing Air Mail Routes along the east coast. In 1918, the military officially transferred operations to the Post Office and by 1920 a transcontinental route was established with17 Air Mail Radio Stations (AMRS) in activation
Then, as now, the specialists at the AMRS’s gathered and disseminated weather data, but back then their duties also included maintaining equipment, servicing the aircraft and unloading mail. As many of them were former maritime radio operators, they were expected to maintain their own equipment.
The Air Commerce Act of 1926 transferred the budding airway systems initially to the control of the Bureau of Lighthouses under the Department of Commerce. But the need for a separate administration was recognized and so the Airways Division was created in 1927. Once of their first acts was to rename their 45 facilities “Airways Radio Stations” or ARS.
This was an exciting time in aviation as the “rules” of the air were being developed, airways were created and methods of communication were invented. Abbreviated messages between the ARS’s were sent by teletype starting in 1928, and many of the Q codes still recognized in Flight Service began as short cuts in order to enhance quick communication. Today the first stage of Search and Rescue is still called a QALQ.
Morse Code was the primary method of communication prior to the development of voice transmission. Navigational aids called VORTAC’s today still broadcast in that manner. Voice communication was recognized early on as the most efficient and effective way to insure safety, and its development was made a top priority.
The Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA) was created in 1938, and the ARS became the Airway Communication Station or ACS. Skilled electronic technicians were introduced to the system to maintain the equipment, allowing the Flight Service specialists more time to serve their primary function of assisting the pilots.
During World War II, the military utilized the ACS;s heavily, and women began “manning” the facilities as the men went off to war. After the war, aviation experienced tremendous growth as air carriers and private pilots surged into the sky.
1958 saw the creation of the Federal Aviation Agency, and the ACS’s finally became what we know today as Flight Service Stations (FSS).
The FSS specialist’s duties by this time were more focused on the needs of the flying public. A Search and Rescue system had been developed and communication was vastly improved. Training and Certification from the National Weather Service enhanced the specialist’s abilities to provide tailored and more complete information to the pilots. The 1950’s also had some nasty aviation accidents that highlighted a need for better radio communications and navigational facilities. This spurred the government to focus on the needs of the Air Traffic Control Tower’s and Centers, and FSS’s importance faded somewhat in the grand scheme of things. While the others received the latest in computers, Flight Service continued to trudge along with teletype.
The Department of Transportation took over the Federal Aviation Administration in 1967, and recognition of the importance of real time weather information during flights became apparent. This led to what we now know as Flight Watch or Enroute Flight Advisory Service (EFAS) in 1972.
About 400 FSS;s were in operation at airports of any size by the early 1970’s, and like the general stores of many small towns, they became hangouts for pilots to talk about their passion for aviation. But advances in technology and the implementation of new computer systems encouraged the FAA to consolidate these facilities into 61 Automated Flight Services from 1984 to 1997. Alaska was the only state to retain just over a dozen of the smaller 1 and 2 man stations.
Three different computer systems were installed in these facilities, which created some interface problems, and the FAA was in the process of changing all of them over to an advanced graphics and data system called OASIS when the US government decided that Flight Service should be administrated through contracts with a private contractor rather than directly by the federal government.
A study to privatize Flight Service began in 2001. In February of 2005 it was announced that Lockheed Martin (LMCO) would be awarded the contract, and the official change of command for those stations in the lower 48 states plus Hawaii occurred in October of that year.
As of the first quarter of 2007, Lockheed Martin’s FS21 computer came online. The phone, data, and frequency lines from around the country were routed to three main Hub facilities in Washington DC, Prescott, and Fort Worth. These are the administrative centers for the three regions: Eastern, Central and Western. As of this time (March 2014) the HUBs handle the bulk of the flight service duties, along with two remaining small part time facilities.
Lockheed Martin’s FS21 computer gave the Flight Service Specialists extensive textual and graphical databases to work with. A website now also allows pilots direct access to the same data and the ability to file, activate and cancel their flight plans without having to contact flight service via phone or radio.
Flight Service in the 21st century
Each week, FSS specialists help provide a range of services to between 80,000 and 90,000 members of the general aviation community including corporate and private aircraft, and to a lesser extent, military and airlines. FAA contractor Lockheed Martin Flight Services currently operates three large 24-hour FSS hubs, two part-time satellite facilities. LMFS facilities are interconnected so as to provide continuous services at all locations, and provide backup if a site were to go down. Alaska FAA FSS facilities operate three 24-hour hub facilities and fourteen part-time and seasonal satellite facilities.
- Preflight Briefings and Flight Planning and general information
- Inflight flight plan management, weather and information updates
- Interface with Homeland Security concerning border crossings
- En route communications
- Inputting Notices to Airmen (NOTAMS) Pilot Weather Reports, and Weather Observations to national databases
- Search and rescue communications services
- Emergency services including lost aircraft orientation
- Preflight and inflight meteorological and aeronautical briefings
- Airport Advisory Services in select locations
- Weather observations (in Alaska)
- Continuous automated broadcasts of hazardous weather advisories over select navigational radios
- Development, translation, processing and coordination of aeronautical, meteorological and procedural information* Support of air shows, aviation conventions and other aviation events 
During daytime and evening hours, FSS offers a service called flight watch on frequency 122.0 MHz and on discrete high altitude frequencies. Flight Watch offers updates to current weather for en route aircraft and takes Pilot Reports (PIREPS) from the pilots - then enters that data into the NWS national database. A few select locations in the conterminous 48 states have Airport Advisory Services (AAS) provided by FSS either full-time or during hours that a control tower is closed. Most of the 17 FSS facilities in Alaska provide AAS, as most Alaska FSS locations do not have control towers. FSS in the US no longer monitor navigational aids, having re-routed the monitoring to either control towers or technical personnel. 
Flight services in Canada
In Canada Flight Information Centres (FIC) monitor the frequency 126.7 MHz (the common en route frequency for broadcasts and traffic information in Canada) as well as 121.5 MHz, the emergency frequency. However, Canadian FIC are gradually phasing out the use of 126.7 MHz for FISE (Enroute Flight Information) and are instead utilizing discrete frequencies. This is to decrease the frequency congestion often experienced on 126.7. These frequencies are found in the CFS Canada Flight Supplement. Pilots can reach a Canadian Flight Information Centre (FIC) toll-free by calling 1-866-WX-BRIEF (1-866-992-7433) from Canada and the United States.
Unlike in the United States, even for VFR flights, pilots are required to file a flight plan or have a flight itinerary with a responsible person for any flight greater than 25 nm from the departure aerodrome. Also, in Canada, flight plans are opened automatically at the estimated time of departure (ETD). Flight information centres play a prominent role managing flight plans, collecting position reports from pilots en route, and initiating commsearch procedures to locate pilots who have not closed flight plans.
There is no per-use charge for flight services, but aircraft owners are required to pay Nav Canada a daily or annual fee, depending on aircraft weight, 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 light aircraft entering Canada are billed a quarterly 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 Aerodrome Advisory Services (RAAS) provided by an FSS in a different location. Rarely, an airport will have Mandatory Frequency Area rules, but no ground station.
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/FIC and air traffic control and has significantly modernized the system, which involved the closing of some local FSSs. However the company in turn created seven large Flight Information Centres (FICs) situated at airports in Halifax, Quebec City, London, North-Bay, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Kamloops. These provide standard en route flight services (weather briefing, flight-planning and commsearch). FSSs provide airport advisories, vehicle control, weather observations, clearance delivery, and some provide Remote Aerodrome Advisory Services. These FSS stations generally have limited hours and are no longer responsible for flight planning, except for sending departure and arrival messages to the appropriate FIC. The FICs have assumed the responsibility for flight plans, filing, inflight alerting, flight plan closures, interpretive weather briefings and NOTAM (NOtices To AirMen) management. The FICs also have large areas they are overseeing and have networks of RCOs, some of which are co-located with FSS or air traffic control sites. The FICs are similar in function and scope to the FAA's former automated FSS system in the United States. North Bay FIC is tied into the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) North Warning System (NWS) radar system, and has a network of 23 RCOs located across Canada's Arctic coast. Quebec City, North-Bay and Kamloops FIC also assist and oversee the "Community Aerodrome Radio Station" (CARS) program.
- FAA order 7110.10[clarification needed]
- FAA Order 7110.65[clarification needed]
- "History". Faa.gov. 2011-02-25. Retrieved 2014-03-13.[not in citation given]
- Atlantic Flyer Magazine Feb 2009 (author?, Page numbers? Article title? publisher?
- FAA SUPPLEMENT ALASKA AFD[clarification needed]
- FAA Order 7110.10
- FAA SUPPLEMENT ALASKA AFD
- Canadian AIM RAC 3.6.1
- Lockheed Martin AFSS
- Flight Services 7110.10T
- Quick Reference Card
- Aeronautical Information Manual 4-1-3. 2012