A Lazy Way to Get an Exceptional Drone Preflight Weather Briefing
I was just reading through CFR Part 107 for another issue and came across § 107.49 Preflight familiarization, inspection, and actions for aircraft operation.
That triggered a memory of a document I had received recently from the FAA.
CFR 107.49 describes the items the UAS pilot should review before a flight. It is not an exhaustive list.
Part of that rule says:
Prior to flight, the remote pilot in command must:
(a) Assess the operating environment, considering risks to persons and property in the immediate vicinity both on the surface and in the air. This assessment must include:
(1) Local weather conditions;
(2) Local airspace and any flight restrictions;
(3) The location of persons and property on the surface; and
(4) Other ground hazards.
The newly updated Pilot’s Guide to a Preflight Briefing (AC 91–92) is beneficial in providing resources to accomplish a comprehensive preflight assessment.
Since all drone pilots, even COA pilots, are subject to some regulations under Part 91, the new Advisory Circular (AC) seems perfectly applicable since the FAA says, “This AC applies to all pilots, flight instructors, and operators, with emphasis on operations conducted under part 91.”
The AC states, “As part of the preflight familiarization with all available information concerning a flight, each pilot should review all appropriate sources (including but not limited to Chart Supplements, the AIM, and NOTAMs), for pertinent information on current traffic patterns at the departure and arrival airports, airport environment, routing, departure and approach procedures, NOTAMs, weather, GNSS availability (if required), crew duties, standard cockpit procedures (e.g., transferring aircraft control), protected phrases, potential emergencies and their remedies, alternates and alternative mission options, fuel and timing, and Take Off and Landing Data (TOLD) speeds. Preflight actions are a rehearsal of the whole flight with contingencies added. Pilots should use a checklist to ensure they do not miss any area of the operation.”
Nearly all of that would apply to public safety drone pilots. Even the awareness of airport operations if flying anywhere near an airport would apply.
The AC references the use of a Flight Service Station (FSS) for a preflight briefing. All pilots can reach an FSS briefer by calling 800-WX-BRIEF (800–992–7433). This can be an easy and efficient way to get the local weather conditions and talk to an FSS Briefer about the weather that may play a role shortly.
You can make the call en route.
There are three types of weather briefings you can ask for:
- Standard Briefing. A standard briefing will include conditions and Significant Meteorological Information (SIGMET) that may influence the pilot in planning, altering, or cancelling a proposed route or flight.
- Abbreviated Briefing. An abbreviated briefing supplements mass disseminated data or updates a previous briefing or is limited to specific information.
- Outlook Briefing. An outlook briefing should be obtained when the proposed departure is 6 hours or more from the briefing time. This type of briefing is provided for planning purposes only.
This is Why You Should Call
At the start of their shifts, many MedEvac and public safety helicopter pilots regularly call in for a standard weather briefing to better understand the weather ahead for the day.
This is a brilliant idea for drone pilots to do as well.
I just called FSS to get a weather briefing for drone operations near me. I learned of a below VFR weather mass that was moving in and low-level wind shear in my area.
The extremely nice weather briefer provided me with all the weather information that will help me to make good preflight weather decisions today.
Keep in mind that the weather briefer can answer all of your questions, and you can discuss conditions and what is coming, but they can’t tell you what to do.
For example, a weather briefer can’t say you should not fly, but they can say VFR is not permitted in your area at this time. Since you must comply with the same weather conditions as a VFR flight, that would be an instant clue that you should stay on the ground.
Drone flight conditions are limited to CFR 107.51. Three statute miles visibility, 500 feet below and 2,000 feet horizontally from clouds.
But That’s Not All
You will also get notice of any NOTAMs or TFRs in your flight area, along with the weather. This helps you to avoid trouble and stay legal.
You can also get instant weather updates by text.
The following capabilities are available by sending a text message to 358782 (FLTSVC):
METARs and TAFs at an airport Request current weather and forecast information for any airport. Examples:
- Text “METAR BWI” and you will receive the latest METAR for Baltimore Washington International Airport.
- Text “METAR BWI PT” and you will receive the latest METAR for Baltimore Washington International Airport in plain text.
- Text “TAF BWI” and you will receive the latest TAF for Baltimore Washington International Airport.
- Text “MT FDK PT” and you will receive the latest METAR and TAF for Frederick Airport in plain text.
So I just tried the service and used my local airport RDU. Within seconds I received my current weather.
Originally published at https://psflight.org on March 25, 2021.