A Flight Information Service (FIS) is an Air Traffic Service provided by Air Traffic Service Units (ATSU) and Flight Information Region (FIR) Centres to aircraft flying in uncontrolled airspace for the purpose of supplying information to pilots which is useful for the safe, orderly and efficient conduct of flights.
The FIS is probably the service most frequently used by VFR pilots who are on cross country flights in uncontrolled (Class G) airspace, sometimes known as The Open FIR. Of course, there is no reason why a pilot should not ask for an FIS from a convenient ATSU while on a local flight. Often, especially when receiving an FIS from an FIR Centre – such as Athinai Information a pilot may receive no information at all, unless he makes a specific request: for instance, to find out whether a danger area is active or what the weather is at a destination or diversion airfield. However, information such as serviceability states of aerodromes on a pilot’s route, collision hazards, or significant weather phenomena may be passed to him by an FIS provider, as a matter of routine.
In any case, even if no particular information is required, it is prudent for a pilot to ask for an FIS when one is available. In that way, if a distress or urgency situation were to arise, the pilot is at least in contact with an ATSU which knows that he is airborne and what his route is.
When receiving an FIS, you must always bear in mind that you are NOT under air traffic control. Consequently, you do not need to request permission from an FIS provider to take any actions you judge necessary. For instance, when changing to another frequency, you simply inform the FIS provider that that is your intention. The list below illustrates the type of responsibility FIS providers have with respect to pilots who request an FIS.
(i) Provision of weather information including SIGMETs.
(ii) Provision of information on changes of serviceability of navigational aids and other
facilities at relevant aerodromes or air traffic control centres.
(iii) Provision of information on changes of conditions at aerodromes, including information on
the state of the aerodrome movement areas when they are affected by such things as repair
work, snow, ice or significant depths of water.
(iv) Provision of any other information pertinent to safety, including general traffic
(v) Provision of an alerting service.
(vi) Initiating overdue action.
(vii) Provision of collision hazard warnings.
(viii) Provision of available information concerning traffic and weather conditions along the
route of the flight that are likely to make operation under the Visual Flight Rules
N.B. There are numerous factors which limit the air traffic service given to a pilot receiving an FIS. For instance, because aerodromes and centres providing an FIS need only be equipped to a specified minimum level, accurate assessment of the possibility of collision hazard between aircraft in flight is low. It is, therefore, recognised that no form of positive control or separation service can be provided to pilots receiving an FIS. Indeed, as we write above, it is of supreme importance that pilots understand that, while receiving an FIS, they are not under air traffic control and are themselves responsible for collision avoidance.
What are the VFR Pilot’s responsibilities when receiving a Flight Information Service? In any exchange of radio transmissions between a pilot and an ATSU, the pilot bears the general
responsibility for transmitting his intentions, requests and responses succinctly, clearly and effectively to the ground operator. Professional pilots are specifically trained in radio communication techniques, but the typical private pilot, flying VFR, will not have received such training. It is, therefore, incumbent on the VFR pilot wishing to become an effective user of airspace and of air traffic control services to take responsibility for his own training and skill-development in this field.
Of one thing you may be certain: if you are to gain maximum benefit from the services that ATSUs can provide you, as a VFR pilot, the manner in which you use your radio must make it clear to the ATSU operator that you are a competent and proficient pilot, navigator and radio operator. Being aware of your responsibilities in this field will help you attain that level of proficiency. Here is a list of some of the responsibilities of a VFR pilot when receiving a Flight Information Service:
(1) Prepare each flight thoroughly.
(2) Keep an attentive listening watch on the FIS frequency you are working.
(3) Maintain good radio discipline.
(4) Learn how to pass your position message in a professional manner.
(5) When transmitting, use standard operating procedures and RT speech groups.
(6) Make your radio transmissions as succinct as possible to avoid congesting the frequency.
(7) Always report leaving an FIS frequency to avoid any uncertainty arising in the mind of the FIS provider about your whereabouts and/or safety.
(8) Remember that receiving an FIS does not free you from your obligation to plan your flight thoroughly.
(9) Always be aware of your present location and be prepared to report your position whenever you are asked to do so by the FIS provider.
(10) Finally always remember that you are not under air traffic control and that you remain responsible at all times for avoiding collision.
The Reply to “Go Ahead”
(N.B. “Go Ahead” is the standard ICAO response that a controller would make to a request for a Flight Information Service. Some countries may have their own way of responding. For instance, in the United Kingdom, the controller would respond with the words, “G-ABCD, Stephenville Approach, Pass your message”. Here we deal exclusively with ICAO practice.)
Your response, as a pilot, to the instruction “Go Ahead” will be to pass a standard report combining details of your aircraft type, position, altitude, route and intentions. A typical pilot response to the “Go Ahead” instruction for Athinai Information Service would be:
“Helicopter, SX-HAB, R22, from Tatoi 11:00 to Ikaros, 3 miles East of Skourta, 2500 feet, QNH 1013, VFR, Estimate Ikaros, 11:45.”
You will notice that the pilot has passed his details in the order:
1. Aircraft call-sign.
2. Aircraft Type.
3. Route and take off time or operation information.
4. Current position
6. Altimeter Setting
7. Flight Rules (VFR or IFR)
8. Estimate of time at next waypoint, and destination.
It will help the ATC controller to visualize your details, and, thus, to give you a better service, if you always pass them in this order. By passing your details in this way, i.e. clearly and crisply, you will also do a lot to convince the controller that he is dealing with a competent pilot/radio operator.