Flight service station
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (December 2008)|
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 specialists rather than controllers, although in the US, FSS specialists' official job title is "air traffic control specialist – station".
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); 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 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 common radio frequency is 122.2 MHz. Although not all RCOs have 122.2 MHz, coverage should be available above 5,000 ft (1,500 m) over most of the US. However, it is recommended to consult directories, charts or databases to find the discrete frequency of the nearest FSS outlet while in flight. Both FSS and ATC monitors the emergency frequency, 121.5 MHz. During daytime and evening hours, FSS offers 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). 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.
On February 1, 2005, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) awarded a contract for the services provided by the 58 FSSs in the conterminous 48 United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii to the Lockheed Martin Corporation. Lockheed Martin Flight Services (LMFS) assumed responsibility for providing FSS flight services on October 4, 2005. With continued FAA oversight, LMFS delivers flight services according to the FAA's strict safety and service requirements. FSS services in the State of Alaska continue to be provided by FAA employees.
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 in 2010 operates three large 24-hour FSS hubs, one 24-hour satellite facility and 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.
All United States FSS sites provide users of the United States National Airspace System with:
- Preflight, Inflight, operational and special services
- En route communications
- 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
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.