By Kevin Psutka
Until now, it has been almost impossible to reach a U.S. Flight Service Station from Canada, except for very few locations in Canada, because the universal 1-800-WX-BRIEF number is inaccessible from Canada. With the move a few years ago to consolidate the U.S. FSS system and transfer management to Lockheed-Martin, COPA took advantage of the opportunity to push for the capability to connect with their briefers toll free from Canada. It has paid off.
As explained on the new portal for flight information services in the U.S. www.afss.com, the system is in transition to three centralized hubs and some other regional sites. Many Flight Service stations remain in service but they are gradually being transferred to the hubs.
To reach a briefer, there are two numbers that can be used. The traditional 1-800-WX-BRIEF number still works when in the U.S., but I asked each of our Directors to try this number from their locations across Canada and they confirmed that it does not work. From my location in Ottawa, however, I am able to reach the New York International Automated Flight Service Station using this number, so it may be useful in a few locations in Canada.
A better way to reach the U.S. is the new TIBS number: 1-877-4-TIBS-WX (1-877-484-2799). TIBS stands for Telephone Information Briefing Service.
Again, I asked our Directors from across Canada to try this number and they all reported it works. So here is a new tool for you to use when you are planning a trip to the U.S.
I still recommend you land at the first opportunity after crossing the border in order to ensure there are no issues with clearing Customs and to top off your briefing for any pop up thunderstorms or TFRs, but this new access to U.S. flight information is a great way to plan before you leave home.
I discovered a few tricks for using the system. The voice prompt will first ask which State you are departing from. There are a few ways to answer this question. You can say the name of the State in which you will be entering the U.S. or enter a two or three digit code, as highlighted on a downloadable chart at www.afss.com/news/pilot_tips.asp , which then will give you other options for receiving computer-generated voice playback of weather and other information for that region, including AIRMETs and METARs for various locations.
At any time, you can say "briefer" and you will be transferred to a live person. Another way to deal with the voice prompt for State is to say "any" which will prompt the system to transfer you to the closest available briefer anywhere in the system; a handy trick for busy days and when all you want to do is close a flight plan.
In my opinion, the new TIBS has a way to go to beat what is available from Nav Canada’s telephone system 1-866-WX-BRIEF (1-866-992-7233) and their Pilot’s Automated Telephone Weather Answering Service (PATWAS, selection 3).
I understand that there are teething problems with the new U.S. system but they are working on it.
At least one important milestone has been achieved; you can now contact U.S. flight services toll free from Canada. Check Lockheed-Martin’s website www.afss.com periodically for new developments.