58TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Conchal, Costa Rica, 20-24 May 2019
Agenda Item: B.6.3 – WP No. 156
Flight Information Service
Presented by PLC
The aim of this paper is to call attention to Flight Information Service (FIS) in aviation. FIS is designed to provide advice and information useful to ensure safe and efficient flight conduct. There are two types: Aerodrome FIS (AFIS) and Enroute FIS. We will focus mainly on Enroute FIS, as AFIS is currently being addressed on both worldwide and European level by regulators.
This working paper highlights the benefits of FIS to airspace users. It also calls attention to the growing establishment of dedicated (surveillance based) Flight Information positions at ANSPs. Dedicated FIS positions can help to reduce controller workload, improve aviation safety through the prevention of airspace infringements and provide a higher level of service to both commercial and General Aviation (GA) pilots.
International regulations and requirements on how to implement and operate (dedicated) FIS are limited. IFATCA is of the opinion that persons working dedicated FIS positions must to be appropriately trained and licenced, and guidance material on a global level should be made available.
1.1 The aim of this paper is to call attention to Flight Information Service (FIS) in aviation. FIS is designed to provide advice and information useful to ensure safe and efficient flight conduct. There are two types: Aerodrome FIS (AFIS) and Enroute FIS. This paper will focus mainly on Enroute FIS, as AFIS is currently being addressed on both worldwide and European level by regulators.
1.2 Every ATCO provides FIS together with ATC service, but more and more ANSP’s have dedicated units that provide Flight Information to aircraft in uncontrolled airspace, or even to flights that are controlled by an ATCO on another frequency (e.g. class E airspace / provision of weather information on the second set). Great differences exist in implementation and execution of both Enroute FIS and Aerodrome FIS (AFIS) between Member States. An overview is given of the contents and tasks of Flight Information Service, together with international regulations.
1.3 This working paper highlights the benefits of FIS to airspace users. It also highlights that the establishment of dedicated (surveillance based) Flight Information positions at ANSPs can be beneficial to reduce controller workload, improve aviation safety through the prevention of airspace infringements and provide a higher level of service to both commercial and General Aviation pilots.
1.4 PLC emphasises that procedures, training and licensing for FIS between Member States should be harmonised and urges regulatory bodies such as ICAO and EASA to broaden their regulatory framework, especially to the provision of Enroute FIS by dedicated Flight Information positions.
FIS as an Air Traffic Service: a general outline
2.1.1 The provision of Air Traffic Services (ATS) entails three main types of service to pilots:
- Air Traffic Control service (ATC), which aims to prevent collisions between aircraft and between aircraft and obstructions in the manoeuvring area, and to facilitate the speed and maintain the flow of air traffic;
- Flight Information service (FIS), which is designed to provide advice and information useful to ensure safe and efficient flight conduct;
- Alerting service (ALRS), which entails alerting rescue organizations and cooperating with them in the carrying out of search and rescue activities.
2.1.2 Air traffic controllers provide all three services, as aircraft that are entitled to Air Traffic Control service must also receive Flight Information and Alerting service. For instance, when an ATCO passes SIGMET or weather information to an aircraft under its control, this is Flight Information Service. Initiating search and rescue when a flight is overdue, is part of Alerting Service (ALRS).
2.1.3 Flight Information service consists of all information relevant to pilots, including collision avoidance and any other information that affects safety during the flight. According to ICAO, the purpose of Flight Information Service is “to provide advice and information useful for the safe and efficient conduct of flights” (ICAO Annex 11 – Air Traffic Services). The contents and purpose of FIS will be further explained in paragraph 2.2.
2.1.4 States, through ANSPs, are required to provide Flight Information service to all aircraft that are subject to Air Traffic Control Service or that are otherwise known to ATS. Every State has one or more designated Flight Information Regions (FIR), in which every aircraft is entitled to FIS. Within these FIR’s, controlled airspace is defined where aircraft are also entitled to an ATC service.
2.1.5 FIS can be provided together with ATC, but may also be provided separately. In practice the latter will most commonly take place in uncontrolled airspace (class F or G) as aircraft are -in most cases- not subject to ATC. In addition, FIS for VFR traffic in class E airspace may be provided separately. In this case, an ATCO and a FISO work together in the same airspace.
2.1.6 Flight Information (and Alerting service) in uncontrolled airspace is commonly provided by Flight Information Service Officers (FISOs). At uncontrolled aerodromes, FISOs provide Aerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS). Enroute FIS is usually carried out by a separate ATS unit: either by a Flight Information Centre (FIC) or by an ATC-unit, possibly with the help of ATS surveillance. In some countries, including the United States, FIS is executed by so called Flight Service Stations (FSS). Canada is known to have both FIC and FSS units.
2.1.7 In summary, we can distinguish three types of Flight Information Service:
- FIS in controlled airspace/aerodromes, usually provided by the ATCO that controls the flight, but certain tasks in the provision of FIS may be delegated to a FISO responsible for FIS in the same FIR (e.g. there are examples in airspace class E where ATCO delivers ATC and FISO delivers FIS to uncontrolled flights);
- Aerodrome FIS (AFIS); usually provided by an AFISO in the AFIU (Aerodrome Flight Information Unit) of an uncontrolled airport;
Enroute FIS in uncontrolled airspace, usually provided by a FISO (and/or an ATCO, depending on the ANSP ́s organization).
2.1.5 This paper will start with a general outline of the tasks and responsibilities of Flight Information Service. In the subsequent paragraphs, the three types of FIS will be reviewed, including the challenges that exist in harmonising the regulatory framework. The benefits of dedicated and surveillance-based FIS are made clear, and limitations of FIS and the concept of over servicing will be discussed. Lastly, we list initiatives to harmonize FIS worldwide and make recommendations for IFATCA policy.
2.2 FIS defined
2.2.1 ICAO defines Flight Information as ‘a service provided for the purpose of giving advice and information useful for the safe and efficient conduct of flights’ (ICAO Annex 11: Air Traffic Services, 15th edition, 2018).
4.1.1 Flight information service shall be provided to all aircraft which are likely to be affected by the information and which are:
Note.— Flight information service does not relieve the pilot-in-command of an aircraft of any responsibilities and the pilot-in-command has to make the final decision regarding any suggested alteration of flight plan.
4.1.2 Where air traffic services units provide both flight information service and air traffic control service, the provision of air traffic control service shall have precedence over the provision of flight information service whenever the provision of air traffic control service so requires.
Note.— It is recognised that in certain circumstances aircraft on final approach, landing, take- off and climb may require to receive without delay essential information other than that pertaining to the provision of air traffic control service.
(ICAO Annex 11, Air Traffic Services, chapter 4.1)
RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE PROVISION OF FLIGHT INFORMATION SERVICE AND ALERTING SERVICE
Flight information service and alerting service shall be provided as follows:
a) within a flight information region (FIR): by a flight information centre, unless the responsibility for providing such services is assigned to an air traffic control unit having adequate facilities for the exercise of such responsibilities;
b) within controlled airspace and at controlled aerodromes: by the relevant air traffic control units.
(ICAO DOC 4444 PANS ATM (16th edition 2016), chapter 4.2)
2.2.2 Flight Information Service should not be confused with Advisory Service (ADVS, or ATAS), which can be provided between IFR aircraft in advisory airspace (class F). Advisory airspace is meant to be temporary, only when in transition between uncontrolled and controlled airspace. Advisory service will not be further addressed as it is outside the scope of this paper.
2.2.3 Figure 2 shows an example of airspace classifications in a FIR and around aerodromes. In uncontrolled airspace (class F and G), Flight Information Service is the main ATS, since Air Traffic Control service is not provided.
2.3 The contents of Flight Information Service
2.3.1 ICAO Annex 11 (Air Traffic Services) describes the contents of Flight Information Service, which is outlined below in the boxed paragraphs. A more general scope can be found in the ICAO ATS Planning Manual (DOC 9426), which does not contain procedures but guidelines for implementation of Annex 11 and DOC 4444. It should be noted that the document dates from the year 1984:
|“In general, the flight information service (FIS) is intended to supplement and update flight information on weather, status of navigation aids and other pertinent matters (military exercises, airspace restrictions, etc.), which the pilot received prior to departure from the meteorological (MET) and aeronautical information service (AIS) so as to be fully aware at all times of all relevant details regarding matters influencing the safe and efficient conduct of his flight.”|
(ICAO. (1984). Doc 9426)
From this document, we can extract that the main goal of FIS is to update the pilot in-flight with any information that supplements or updates the pre-flight planning. This includes information to VFR flights about traffic and weather conditions along the route, and collision hazards, to aircraft operating in airspace Classes C, D, E, F and G.
4.2 SCOPE OF FLIGHT INFORMATION SERVICE
4.2.1 Flight information service shall include the provision of pertinent:
and of any other information likely to affect safety.
4.2.2 Flight information service provided to flights shall include, in addition to that outlined in 4.2.1, the provision of information concerning:
Note 1.— The information in b), including only known aircraft, the presence of which might constitute a collision hazard to the aircraft informed, will sometimes be incomplete and air traffic services cannot assume responsibility for its issuance at all times or for its accuracy.
Note 2.— When there is a need to supplement collision hazard information provided in compliance with b), or in case of temporary disruption of flight information service, traffic information broadcasts by aircraft may be applied in designated airspaces. Guidance on traffic information broadcasts by aircraft and related operating procedures is contained in Attachment B.
4.2.3 Recommendation.— ATS units should transmit, as soon as practicable, special air-reports to other aircraft concerned, to the associated meteorological office, and to other ATS units concerned. Transmissions to aircraft should be continued for a period to be determined by agreement between the meteorological and air traffic services authorities concerned.
4.2.4 Flight information service provided to VFR flights shall include, in addition to that outlined in 4.2.1, the provision of available information concerning traffic and weather conditions along the route of flight that are likely to make operation under the visual flight rules impracticable.
(ICAO Annex 11 Air Traffic Services, chapter 4.2)
2.3.2 ICAO DOC 4444 (PANS ATM) describes more detailed procedures for Air Traffic Control and Flight Information Service, however the chapter on FIS is very limited.
2.4 Aerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS)
2.4.1 For aerodromes that are busy enough to justify Air Traffic Service, but do not require air traffic control, Aerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS) can be provided to ensure the appropriate safety levels. Contrary to Enroute FIS, two-way radio contact is usually mandatory at AFIS- aerodromes and the surrounding airspace (ATZ).
2.4.2 Information on how to implement and operate AFIS has long been minimal and scattered. However, both on worldwide and European level, there are recent initiatives to harmonise the legal and procedural framework for AFIS:
2.4.3 The ICAO ATM OPS Panel is developing an ICAO Manual for Aerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS), which will provide a framework for procedures and phraseology for AFIS personnel. It also will provide guidance for knowledge, qualifications and training of AFIS personnel and include requirements for AFIS information and how surveillance systems should be implemented and used. The manual is expected to be released in the near future.
2.4.4. EASA is currently developing a framework to harmonise AFIS at a European scale. There has been an extensive survey among Member States. The survey shows that AFIS is very differently organised within Europe, with many countries also going beyond the purpose of AFIS. A notice for proposed amendment was issued in 2016, which proposes European harmonisation regarding this certification. This harmonisation is still under development; local legislators are waiting for the outcome. The framework is expected to be released after the year 2022.
2.4.5 In the light of the mandate of the EU legislator concerning ATS, there is a need to define explicit and fundamental requirements for AFIS in the EU context, by setting an efficient, effective and proportionate framework consistent with the FIS principles established by ICAO and by the existing EU legislation (e.g. SERA). More specifically, the objectives are to:
- establish clarity as regards the rules applicable to AFIS;
ensuring a sufficient level of harmonisation for AFIS provision throughout the EASA Member States;
- consistency between the proposed AFIS requirements and the existing applicable ICAO provisions and EU legislation;
- a proportional and cost-efficient framework, applicable to different aerodromes with different types of operating traffic; and
- maintain high aviation safety level by ensuring adequate implementation or AFIS provisions linked to safety and tackling the issues identified by standardisation inspections.
2.4.6 To harmonise AFIS procedures at European level, Eurocontrol published the EUROCONTROL Manual for Aerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS), which contains detailed procedures, including phraseology and guidelines for Alerting Service and emergencies.
2.4.7 IFATCA has policy on AFIS, established 1985, last updated 2007. The main purpose of this policy is to emphasize that aerodromes with IFR operations or complex VFR operations should have Air Traffic Control service in place, and AFIS shall never substitute ATC. Further, it describes that coordination procedures should be in place between AFIS and ATC when there is controlled airspace around an AFIS aerodrome.
ADME 2.5 PROVISION OF ATS AT AERODROMES
IFATCA policy is:
Air Traffic Control service shall be provided at aerodromes that:
At aerodromes at which Air Traffic Control is provided the appropriate grade of controlled airspace should be provided.
Where the above factors do not apply, Aerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS) may be provided, but shall never be used as a substitute for Air Traffic Control Service. Where AFIS is in operation the limitations of the service shall be added to the station RTF callsign.
See: WP 88 – Istanbul 2007. See also: WP 39 – Athens 1985 and WP 61 – San José 1986
ADME 2.7 THE INTERFACE BETWEEN ATC AND AFIS
AFIS units are tasked with the provision of FIS and Alerting service within their jurisdictional airspace, without being considered an ATC unit; aerodromes identified as “AFIS aerodromes” maintain the status of “non-controlled” aerodromes. The interface between AFIS and ATC, attention is drawn to the coordination in that phase of flight when an aircraft – or more than one – is transiting from an AFIS to ATC and vice a versa. This is particularly relevant when the aerodrome is surrounded by controlled airspace where instrument procedures’ profiles extend through both volumes of airspace. To enable flights to operate safely between AFIS and ATC and vice a versa.
IFATCA policy is:
At aerodromes where Aerodrome Flight Information Service is provided and are directly adjacent to controlled airspace appropriate LOAs are to be adopted defining the interface between AFIS units and the relevant ATC unit(s) in order to provide detailed operating and coordination procedures.
See: WP 84 – Taipei 1997
(IFATCA. (2018). TPM, 2018 Ed.)
2.4.8 As becomes clear from the above, Aerodrome Flight Information has received much attention recently from regulatory bodies. PLC finds these developments encouraging and thinks that they will bring clarity to both pilots and ATS personnel operating in AFIS aerodromes.
2.4.9 Unfortunately, for Enroute Flight Information Service, there are no such developments in ICAO and EASA. This will be further discussed in paragraph 2.7.
2.5 Enroute FIS and the combination with ATC
2.5.1 Enroute FIS entails the provision of Flight Information to aircraft, both commercial and General Aviation, both in controlled and uncontrolled airspace. Enroute FIS can be provided together with ATC but may also be provided separately. In practice the latter will most commonly take place in uncontrolled airspace (class F or G) as aircraft do not receive ATC at that time.
2.5.2 There are also examples where ATCOs and FISOs work together in airspace class E. For example, in Germany, specifically trained FISOs work mostly in airspace class E. That is most of the airspace up to FL100, except around major aerodromes. In airspace E, one is confronted with mixed traffic. According to the German MA, it is vital for their controllers (ATCOs) to have a dedicated FISO dealing with VFR traffic. It greatly reduces their workload and makes it easier to coordinate IFR and VFR flights, which both use airspace E.
2.5.3 In some airspace classes, information should be passed to IFR traffic about VFR flights and other collision hazards. ATCOs and FISOs can only do this for aircraft that are known to them, so pilots must realise that this information can be incomplete (as stated in ICAO PANS ATM).
2.5.4 It can be unclear what is exactly expected of an ATCO when providing FIS in combination with ATC, especially how often and what information exactly has to be given. ATCOs main task is to prevent collisions and ensure a safe and efficient traffic flow. In this qualification, the provision of FIS is poorly defined. The ICAO ATS planning manual (DOC 9426) addresses this issue both indirectly and directly, by stating that FIS is intended to supplement pilot pre-flight preparation/briefing and in general, and the service provisions of ATS in general should not be taken to a level that is impracticable:
1.2 OBJECTIVES OF ATS
1.2.3 In addition, since ATS is normally the only ground service which is in direct contact with aircraft in flight, care must be taken in assigning additional responsibilities emanating from other national requirements to ATS (i.e. diplomatic authorisation to operate over the territory of a State), operational supervision of flights, etc. (i.e. national security), so as not to dilute the service provisions of ATS to a point where it will become difficult for controllers to draw a clear line in distinguishing the different capacities in which they are expected to act. In general, experience seems to indicate that the less additional responsibilities that are given to ATS the better it is able to meet its primary objectives.
2.2 FLIGHT INFORMATION SERVICE
126.96.36.199 In general, the flight information service (FIS) is intended to supplement and update during the flight, information on weather, status of navigation aids and other pertinent matters (exercises, airspace reservations, etc.) the pilot received prior to departure from the meteorological (MET) and aeronautical information service (AIS) so as to be fully aware at all times of all relevant details regarding matters influencing the safe and efficient conduct of his flight. The fact that FIS has been entrusted to ATS, even though the information emanates or is generated by other ground services (airport operators, the MET and communications (COM) services), is due to the fact that ATS is the ground service which is most frequently in communication with the pilot. From this it follows that, while ATS is responsible for the transmission of that information, the responsibility for its initiation, accuracy, verification and timely transmission to ATS must rest with its originators.
188.8.131.52 This fact does not, however, apply to information provided in uncontrolled airspace regarding other air traffic operating in the vicinity of a given aircraft. This traffic information should be given whenever it is likely that such information will assist pilots concerned to avoid r-2-2-1 the risk of collision. (…)
(ICAO DOC 9426, ATS Planning Manual, first edition, 1984)
2.5.5 General Aviation pilots are constantly reminded that when FIS is provided by an ATCO, the ATC task always comes first (An exception is listed in ICAO DOC 4444 paragraph 4.1.2: Note.— It is recognized that in certain circumstances aircraft on final approach, landing, take-off and climb may require to receive without delay essential information other than that pertaining to the provision of air traffic control service.):
As sometimes FIS is provided by air traffic control units, you might be talking to a controller when trying to get FIS in some countries (especially in northern Europe). If so, remember that the provision of ATC always takes precedence over the provision of FIS!
(FIS for General Aviation Pilots, Safety Promotion Leaflet, European General Aviation Safety Team, EASA.)
2.5.6 In 2013, it was pointed out by IFATCA that FIS provided by ATCOs is not necessarily the most efficient and accurate delivery method. Increasing traffic density and workload could prevent the ATCO from broadcasting essential traffic information. This is even more complicated when there is a lack of tools and procedures to determine if the Flight Information that pilots have is up-to-date (See: B.5.8. Bali 2013; Relay of flight information from Air Traffic Service to aircraft.).
2.5.7 As a result, in the IFATCA 2013 Bali conference, policy was adopted to encourage the development of technologies to automate the provision of FIS, for supporting purposes:
ATS 3.37 RELAY OF FLIGHT INFORMATION FROM AIR TRAFFIC SERVICE TO AIRCRAFT
ICAO SARPS state that Air Traffic Services are required to provide flight information. Despite it not being the most accurate and efficient method, it is often the Air Traffic Controller that assumes responsibility for broadcasting this information. (…) it is a huge job to meet all the ICAO requirements about the passing of information, which can include a lot more than just SIGMET and AIRMET information. It can be difficult to determine if pilots have received up to date flight information.
IFATCA policy is:
IFATCA encourages the development of technologies to automate the provision of Flight Information Service.
See: Resolution B4 – WP 92 – Bali 2013
When flight information is provided through automatic data transmission systems, clear procedures shall be established and the allocation of tasks and responsibilities shall be clearly determined.
See: Resolution B5 – WP 92 – Bali 2013
(IFATCA. (2018). TPM, 2018 Ed.)
2.5.8 In ICAO’s sample Aviation Regulations for Air Navigation Services, Flight Information and Alerting Service is suggested to be provided by Flight Information Centres, unless the ATC unit has adequate facilities for the provision of FIS by ATCOs.
11.2.14 Establishment and designation of the units providing ATS
The ATS shall be provided by units established and designated as follows:
184.108.40.206 Flight information centres shall be established to provide flight information service and alerting service within flight information regions, unless the responsibility of providing such services within a flight information region is assigned to an air traffic control unit having adequate facilities for the discharge of such responsibility.
(ICAO Sample Civil Aviation Regulations for Air Navigation Services (ANS), First Edition, 2013)
2.6 The benefits of dedicated FIS
2.6.1 The preceding paragraph shows that although it is often the Air Traffic Controller that assumes responsibility to give flight information, this might not be the most accurate and efficient method. The provision of FIS is subordinate to the actual control of flights and ATCOs may lack correct information, or simply lack time.
2.6.2 In addition, ATCOs might be asked to provide FIS to (VFR) aircraft in uncontrolled airspace, different from the airspace that they are used to working in. This increases workload and can cause uncertainty about procedures. An example is an ACC controller having to provide FIS during night shifts to police and medical helicopters flying low level.
2.6.3 For airspace users, the establishment of a dedicated Flight Information Service is a big advantage, mainly because FIS is the main priority of FISOs. They are specifically trained for this service and the type of traffic. Also, a separate frequency for FIS makes it more approachable for General Aviation pilots, who may be put off by having to call in on an ATC frequency.
2.6.4 Another strength of well-developed and proactive Flight Information Service is to help ANSPs in the prevention of Airspace Infringements. According to Eurocontrol, enhanced and dedicated Flight Information Service is worth every cost. Following a 2008 survey with site visits to FIC’s in France, Germany, Sweden, The Netherlands and UK, Eurocontrol released a European Airspace Infringement Action Plan in January 2010 (Eurocontrol (2010): European Action Plan for Airspace Infringement Risk Reduction. Released Issue, 1.0), together with airline representatives and organisations for General Aviation (IAOPA, IATA, AEA). Among the recommendations are:
- Transfer services to VFR traffic in uncontrolled airspace from ATC sectors to dedicated FIS positions at ACCs or aerodromes;
Harmonisation of FIS provided to VFR flights should be based on ICAO recommendations and existing best practices;
- Radar-derived information available at ATS units should be used to enhance the information passed to pilots;
Enhance and harmonise FIS provided to VFR flights.
2.6.5 EASA also puts the prevention of airspace infringements high on the safety agenda. In the EuropeanPlan (European Aviation Safety Agency (2017): European Plan for Aviation Safety (EPAS) 2018-2022) for Aviation Safety is a section dedicated to preventing mid-air collisions due to General Aviation aircraft infringing into controlled airspace. One of the action items in the 2018-2022 plan, that all EASA member states are obliged to adopt in their local action plans, is:
Service provision to GA flights
Raising the quality of support provided to GA flights by air navigation service providers (ANSPs) through focused oversight.
2.6.7 Practical examples of how dedicated FIS can improve aviation safety and decrease controller workload can be found in Europe. In various countries (see paragraph 2.9.5), FIS is provided by FISOs using radar displays which enable them to track the aircraft they are in contact with. For instance, in the Amsterdam Flight Information Centre, FISOs use surveillance information to follow VFR traffic in the vicinity of controlled airspace. They provide Flight Information to pilots, but also intervene directly when an airspace infringement is made. Because of this, ATCOs working Amsterdam approach can filter out all VFR traffic below the TMA and concentrate on the flights under their control. In May 2019, an Airspace Infringement Warning System will be implemented at the FIC for the EHAM CTR and TMA 1. Neighbouring countries, such as UK, Germany and Denmark, have similar procedures and systems. In the Eurocontrol Action Plan, these countries are stated as ‘examples of best practice’.
2.7 Regulating framework for Enroute FIS
2.7.1 The complexity of Enroute FIS is not proportionate with the level of regulation. Enroute Flight Information Service is not internationally regulated and requirements on how to implement and operate FIS are limited. ICAO SARPs mostly speak about FIS in combination with ATC service, provided by ATCOs.
2.7.2 Both ICAO and EASA are working on a manual/framework for AFIS, but to the knowledge of PLC there are no intentions to develop the same for Enroute FIS.
2.7.3 Eurocontrol recognised the need for a regulating framework in their European Action Plan for Airspace Infringements (2010). Among other things, Eurocontrol proposes to develop “coordinate and facilitate stakeholder efforts aimed at harmonisation of FIS” and “a pan- European FIS manual along the same lines as the proposed development of a pan-European AFIS manual”. According to information IFATCA received, Eurocontrol is currently working on an update of the European Action Plan.
2.7.4 In 2018, EASA performed a Safety Issue Assessment on deconfliction with IFR/VFR traffic in airspaces D, E and G. Among the proposed actions is the following:
|Flight Information Service
(Safety Issue Assessment, Deconfliction with IFR/VFR traffic, EASA (2018))
2.8 Legal framework and over servicing
2.8.1 The (A)FIS unit is not an air traffic control unit. Except for cases when relaying clearances from air traffic control (ATC), (A)FISO’s only provide advice and information to pilots. It is therefore the responsibility of pilots using the service provided by this unit to maintain proper separation in conformity with the rules of the air. The UK FISO manual describes this balance as follows:
1.4 Service Provision by FISOs: Responsibilities
In providing advice to aircraft, FISOs should carefully consider whether such advice could be misconstrued as an instruction and should phrase that advice accordingly. The provision of advice by a FISO should be limited to those occasions where they consider that it is essential for the safe conduct of flight; for example the provision of advice on local joining procedures to arriving aircraft approaching the traffic circuit.
(Flight Information Service Officer Manual (CAP 797) Civil Aviation Authority UK, 2015)
2.8.2 A similar phrase can be found in the European Safety Leaflet on FIS for General Aviation:
5. Limitations of “Information”
Nevertheless, pilots should never solely rely on the assistance received by FIS, as there are certain limitations in the provision of this service: (…)
4. FISOs are not licensed to provide air traffic control service therefore any advice given is only a suggestion and shall not be considered as binding.
(FIS for General Aviation Pilots, Safety Promotion Leaflet, European General Aviation Safety Team, EASA.)
2.8.3 IFATCA PLC presented a paper on “Duty of Care principles and over servicing” at the conference in Accra (2018). In this paper, the provision of Flight Information in class G airspace is taken as an example of how difficult it is for an ATCO or FISO not to ‘over service’ a pilot with information, as the so-called ‘standard of care’ is above what is prescribed:
Using the definitions above (ICAO), IFR aircraft in class G airspace known to ATC must be informed of both known and unknown aircraft on a conflicting path such so that the pilot can take any evasive action that needs to be taken. (…)
Pilots may place greater reliance on the traffic information than the actual circumstances may dictate. (…)
Not only could the pilot assume they are in receipt of all traffic in the area, if they are not passed traffic by the ATCO, they may assume there is no traffic in their vicinity. The irony of this situation is that where the ATCO provides a flight information service to an IFR aircraft in class G airspace in accordance with ICAO Annex 11, and only passes known traffic that may constitute a collision risk, it may introduce more risk. This is because as a result of previous over servicing, and having been not ‘over serviced’ in this instance, the pilot may incorrectly assume there is no traffic and not be as vigilant for other aircraft.
(WP C.6.8: “Duty of Care principles and over servicing”, presented by PLC at IFATCA conference in Accra, Ghana (2018))
2.8.4 Concluding, it must always be made clear to pilots flying in uncontrolled airspace that Flight Information is provided ‘as far as practicable’ and ATS cannot be held responsible for its timeliness, correctness or accuracy. Pilots themselves are responsible for separation of other aircraft through ‘see and avoid’. At the same time, guidance should be available to ATCOs and FISOs providing Flight Information about the consequences of systematic ‘over servicing’ and the reliance that pilots may place on this. Clear and harmonised procedures can help with this.
2.9 The use of surveillance in (A)FIS
2.9.1 The use of surveillance in Flight Information Service can be very valuable for the provision of information on potential risk of collision, infringement of controlled, prohibited or restricted airspace and the location of observed meteorological phenomena. Radar can be used to give weather (avoidance) information, navigation assistance and traffic information.
2.9.2 The use of surveillance systems in FIS is also described by ICAO, however it is just described for ATCOs and refers to identified aircraft only.
8.11 USE OF ATS SURVEILLANCE SYSTEMS IN THE FLIGHT INFORMATION SERVICE
Note.— The use of an ATS surveillance system in the provision of flight information service does not relieve the pilot-in-command of an aircraft of any responsibilities, including the final decision regarding any suggested alteration of the flight plan.
8.11.1 Functions The information presented on a situation display may be used to provide identified aircraft with: a) information regarding any aircraft observed to be on a conflicting path with the identified aircraft and suggestions or advice regarding avoiding action; b) information on the position of significant weather and, as practicable, advice to the aircraft on how best to circumnavigate any such areas of adverse weather (see 220.127.116.11, Note); c) information to assist the aircraft in its navigation.
(ICAO DOC 4444 PANS ATM, chapter 8.11)
There are many benefits of surveillance based (A)FIS in terms of aviation safety and service level. Pilots are empowered to obtain a comprehensive picture of the airspace that they are using, with more accuracy. Not only traffic in the vicinity will be pointed out, but also the pilot will get an idea of what the other traffic is actually doing. Although the use of radar does not actually imply that a radar service is being provided and in no way relieves the pilot of his responsibilities, the information available is far more detailed and results in improved traffic information being provided where possible.
2.9.3 Another benefit of using radar in the provision of FIS for the safety of commercial aviation is that of airspace protection, in terms of reducing airspace infringements by VFR aircraft.
In addition, alerting service benefits from radar-based operations, as flights can be spotted on radar much faster – and Search and Rescue services benefit from radar-based information of last known aircraft positions. Also the provision of weather information could be improved by the surveillance system, for instance AIRMET and SIGMET in relation to the position of the aircraft.
2.9.4 More and more AFIS aerodromes use surveillance-based information satisfactorily. A good example is Norway, where the main airline, Wideroe, shortly after introducing this new service praised the much higher level of service and accuracy in the information provided.
2.9.5 For Enroute FIS, a growing number of countries have Flight Information Centres (FIC’s) run by dedicated FIS personnel (FISOs) with surveillance based FIS in operation. They are often part of the local Area Control Centre. Countries that are known to operate surveillance based FIS are Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary Indonesia, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland and The Netherlands (This list is based on informal enquiries of PLC and may not be complete).
2.9.6 In the UK, FIS is called “Basic Service” (non-surveillance based), which is different from Traffic Service (where the pilot is provided with traffic information derived from an ATS surveillance system).
2.10 Initiatives to harmonise Flight Information Service
2.10.1 In fact, the operation and implementation of Flight Information Service in Member States is very diverse. The increase of the demand for FIS due to congestion of airspace and growth of General Aviation traffic has led to numerous initiatives to investigate and harmonise FIS across the world. The following paragraphs list the most important initiatives of recent years.
2.10.2 In 2008 Eurocontrol held a survey on Flight Information Services (Eurocontrol (2008): Airspace Infringement Initiative: Flight Information Services Survey. Released Issue, 1.0) in the light of airspace infringement risk reduction. The survey included site visits to FIC’s in France, Germany, Sweden, The Netherlands and UK. The local procedures and organisations were different, but in all countries, it was found that the FIS provided, consistently exceeded that required by ICAO. For the sake of harmonization of FIS across Europe the Airspace Infringement Action Plan proposed recommendations, such as use of radar derived information, employ appropriately trained and licensed officers and to provide FIS from dedicated positions that will not reduce the level of service due to high levels of IFR traffic in the vicinity.
2.10.3 The European Airspace Infringement Action Plan was released in January 2010. Currently Eurocontrol is working on an update of this plan (see paragraph 2.6.5).
2.10.4 To harmonise FIS and unify the people working in the profession, The International Flight Information Service Association (IFISA) was founded in 2015. IFISA is an umbrella organisation for all national associations and (trade) unions that represent AFIS or FIS operators. At the time of writing, IFISA (communications of PLC with IFISA, together with information from https://www.IFISA.info (2019)) represents 30 member associations from 17 countries, with the aim of working with ICAO and EASA to standardise and improve the FIS service worldwide .
2.10.5 An in-depth study into the principles and regulations of FIS was executed by ANACNA, the Italian Member Association, in the year 2017. Following a big increase in traffic making use of Italian Flight Information, and the notion that the regulatory and technical standards are not sufficient to cope with this. ANACNA investigated operations and regulations on international level. They found that:
- Both ICAO and SERA provide very limited information on Flight Information Service that does not describe a clear boundary of the service.
- The standards prescribed are ambiguous and not sufficient to define the limits of obligation and information to aircraft. Only basic criteria can be found in ICAO DOC 9426, not doing justice to the service level that is provided by- and expected of ATCOs and FISOs;
- New technologies, such as ADS-B, can help tremendously in assisting ATS personnel in providing FIS;
- Both on ICAO and European level, there are no standards and technical requirements for the use of ATS Surveillance for provision of FIS in class G airspace.
3.1 Flight Information service is defined as ‘a service provided for the purpose of giving advice and information useful for the safe and efficient conduct of flights’. We all provide Flight Information Service, as states are obliged to give this service to every aircraft in the FIR that is known to ATS. In controlled airspace, this is normally done by the ATCO together with ATC service. In those cases, the provision of ATC takes precedence over the provision of FIS. For uncontrolled flights, FIS can be provided by a (Aerodrome) Flight Information Service Officer. FIS also includes information about potentially conflicting traffic, but contrary to Air Traffic Control (ATC), the responsibility for separation lies with the pilot.
3.2 We distinguish two types of FIS: Aerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS), which can be provided at smaller airfields and the surrounding ATZ, and Enroute Flight Information Service, provided to all aircraft enroute in controlled and/or uncontrolled airspace.
3.3 FIS provided by dedicated FIS personnel (FISOs) can be beneficial for several reasons. Some years ago, IFATCA already recognised that FIS delivered by ATCOs might not always be the most accurate and efficient method. The provision of FIS is subordinate to the actual control of flights and ATCOs may lack correct information, or simply lack time. The establishment of dedicated FIS positions or even Flight Information Centres (FIC’s) at ANSPs can be beneficial to reduce ATCO workload, improve aviation safety through the prevention of airspace infringements and provide a higher level of service and safety to both commercial and General Aviation pilots flying in uncontrolled airspace.
3.4 The use of surveillance systems in FIS results in a higher quality of provision of information and a more accurate and efficient provision of alerting service.
3.5 Studies and surveys carried out by Eurocontrol and the Italian Member Association show that the implementation of FIS differs greatly among Member States. In some countries Enroute FIS to uncontrolled aircraft is provided by ATCOs in addition to their other tasks, where neighbouring countries have a FIS position or Flight Information Centre (FIC), where dedicated and sometimes licensed Flight Information Officers work behind a radar screen. Selection, training, licensing and competency requirements vary and there is no conformity in what the practical interpretation of the broad scope of Flight Information Service should entail.
3.6 International regulations and requirements on how to implement and operate FIS are limited. For AFIS, there are recent initiatives from both ICAO and EASA to harmonise the procedural framework. IFATCA encourages these developments and recognises the need to do the same for dedicated Enroute FIS, as this service becomes more and more common and mature among Member States. In addition, IFATCA recognises the need for guidance material at a global level to be made available by regulators on requirements, procedures, training and licensing for dedicated Flight Information Service.
4.1 It is recommended that IFATCA policy is:
Where States have established or intend to establish dedicated FIS positions, persons working these positions shall be appropriately trained and licenced.
…and is added to the IFATCA Technical and Professional Manual.
4.2 It is recommended that:
Guidance material at the global level should be made available by regulators on requirements, procedures, training and licensing for dedicated Flight Information Service.
European Plan for Aviation Safety (EPAS) 2018, European Aviation Safety Agency, 14 November 2017.
Safety Issue Assessment, Deconfliction with IFR/VFR traffic, European Aviation Safety Agency, 2018.
ICAO Annex 11: Air Traffic Services, 15th edition, 2018.
ICAO Annex 2: Rules of the Air, 10th edition, 2005.
ICAO DOC 4444 PANS ATM, 16th edition, 2018.
ICAO DOC 9426, ATS Planning Manual, 1st edition, 1984.
ICAO Sample Civil Aviation Regulations for Air Navigation Services (ANS), 1st edition, 2013.
IFATCA Technical and Professional Manual, edition 2018.
IFATCA 2018 WP C.6.8: “Duty of Care principles and over servicing”, presented by PLC at IFATCA conference in Accra, Ghana.
SKYbrary Wiki. (n.d.). Retrieved July, 2018, from https://www.skybrary.aero/index.php/Flight_Information_Service
Eurocontrol (2008): Airspace Infringement Initiative: Flight Information Services Survey. Released Issue, 1.0.
Eurocontrol (2010): European Action Plan for Airspace Infringement Risk Reduction. Released Issue, 1.0.
FIS for General Aviation Pilots, Safety Promotion Leaflet, European General Aviation Safety Team, EASA.
Flight Information Service Officer Manual (CAP 797) Civil Aviation Authority UK, 2015.
UK Flight Information Services: Safety and Airspace Regulation Group (CAP 774), Civil Aviation Authority UK, 2015.
Flight Information Services Study, ANACNA Italian Air Traffic Controllers Association, 2017.
Last Update: October 2, 2020