Every time I fly to Canada, I’m impressed with how helpful the flight service center weather briefers are. They don’t just read you the forecast, they tell you what they think is going to happen that isn’t reflected in the forecast, suggest options, and generally act as a partner in your decision making process.
Yesterday morning, when I was trying to figure out if I had a hope in hell of getting home by plane, I used the hotel phone to call the flight service center weather briefers (and because I was using a land-line, it connected me to the most local one in Burlington – there is one 1-800 number for the country, but it connects to different flight service depending where you are). The guy I was talking too was just like the Canadian ones – he helped me make a good mental picture of the weather, discussed alternate routes and what I’d encounter on that route, etc.
Later on, I called flight service again from the Barnes Airport. But I couldn’t find a land-line phone so I ended up using Vicki’s cell phone, which connected me to Buffalo flight service. And I got what I’m used to from weather briefers – a monotone reading of the SIGMET ZULU (icing advisory) that came out early in the morning and hasn’t been adjusted since. I asked for PIREPs (pilot reports) of ice, and he said they didn’t have any – which is annoying because the DTN weather system in the FBO at Barnes had shown me a couple. I asked for information on where the cloud tops would be, and he read me that day’s area forecast. He didn’t offer any interpretation. He didn’t offer an iota of information that I couldn’t have gotten from DUATs or DTN or the AOPA web site.
All the time I’ve been a pilot, I’ve been dealing with Buffalo flight service. And all this time, I’ve wondered what the point is of having flight service stations in this age of internet. Hell, even a voice response phone system could do the job they’re doing. And so I cheered when the government announced they are outsourcing flight service to LockMart. But now it’s hitting me – maybe it’s just Buffalo that sucks. Maybe every other flight service center in the country is staffed by knowledgeable and helpful people with local knowledge and a feel for what you can and can’t get away with in your type of plane in this type of weather in this type of terrain. If that’s the case, I’m pretty sure that outsourcing and privatizing will make it worse. And that’s too bad.