Do You Need to Call Flight Service?

To Be Compliant with FAR 91.103, are Pilots Required to Call Flight Service?

More and more pilots are using Electronic Flight Bags (“EFBs”), such as ForeFlight, WingX, Garmin Pilot and FlyQ. That means that fewer and fewer pilots are calling Flight Service for a phone briefing.  Do you know if pilots are required to call Flight Service to be compliant with FAR 91.103?

2015 Case

In 2015, a pilot obtained a briefing using ForeFlight, but unfortunately did not set up DUATS in ForeFlight, so a record of the briefing was not emailed to him.  In that briefing, ForeFlight depicted two Vice Presidential TFRs on its screen (which the pilot avoided). A third Vice Presidential TFR was not depicted on ForeFlight, and the pilot violated that TFR.

  • 91.103

In addition to citing the pilot for flying through the TFR, the FAA also cited the pilot for failure to obtain a proper pre-flight briefing. That’s because, according to §91.103, when it comes to Preflight Action, “Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight. This information must include—

  • For a flight under IFR or a flight not in the vicinity of an airport, weather reports and forecasts, fuel requirements, alternatives available if the planned flight cannot be completed, and any known traffic delays of which the pilot in command has been advised by ATC.

 The Affirmative Defense of “Reasonable Reliance”

The FAA had routinely taken the position that, if a pilot got a briefing from Flight Service, and if Flight Service had failed to brief the pilot about a particular TFR, then the FAA would not pursue an enforcement action for violating that TFR.  This doctrine is known as the affirmative defense of “reasonable reliance”.   In this case, the FAA refused to dismiss the action on the defense of reasonable reliance since the pilot got his briefing from ForeFlight instead of Flight Service.  Ironically, the FAA stopped short of calling ForeFlight “unofficial” or “unreliable”.

The case went to court in 2015 and the FAA settled its  enforcement case against the pilot, wherein he was required to accomplish a few hours of remedial training.  No violation went on his record.

After the ruling, there were more questions, so the pilot’s attorney, Scott Williams, a California-based panel attorney for AOPA’s Pilot Protection Services, submitted a request for an Opinion Letter from the FAA’s Office of Chief Counsel as to 91.103.  Mr. Williams’ letter specifically asked three questions:

  1. Is a preflight briefing in violation of FAR 91.103 if it did not include a phone call to Flight Service, 1-800-WX-BRIEF?
  2. If a pilot obtains a preflight briefing from the FAA’s [TFR] website, it contains a disclaimer at the bottom of the page: “For the Latest Information Call Your Local Flight Service Station at 1-800-WX-BRIEF”. Is that disclaimer advisory or regulatory?
  3. Does the FAA consider a briefing using only an electronic flight bag to be in violation of 91.103?

It took the FAA 11 months to come up with an answer, but they finally responded with the following:

  1.  “A PIC’s failure to contact LMFS prior to a flight would not be a per se violation of FAR 91.103”
  2. “The statement at the bottom of the FAA’s TFR website (to call your local FSS) is advisory
  3. “A PIC’s reliance on only an EFB would not be a per se violation of FAR 91.103”

Should Pilots Still Call Flight Service?

Pilots should always obtain a weather and airspace briefing from a reliable source.  Most EFBs are fine, but merely looking at a tablet or iPad isn’t good enough.  If your EFB briefing missed a TFR and you managed to fly right through it, don’t expect the FAA to believe that you saw what wasn’t there.

To be safe, pilots should use EFBs that have a feature that will email you a copy of the full briefing.  Keep those emails for at least 6 months.  If that doesn’t work for you, make the phone call to Flight Service, which puts your briefing on the record.


Is Your Aircraft Ready to Fly

You are directly responsible for, and are the final authority as to the operation of your Aircraft. There’s a lot to consider, so here goes:

(FAR 91.413) The PIC must make sure that his/her aircraft is airworthy. That includes checking the following:

Type Interval Per
AD Inspections Per the AD. (Expires the last day of the 12th month) 39.7
Annual Inspection 12 Months 91.409
100 Hour Inspection* Every 100 hours 91.409
Transponder 24 Months. (Expires the last day of the 24th month) 91.413
Static System, if flying IFR 24 Months. (Expires the last day of the 24th month) 91.411
ELT Operational 12 Months 91.207
ELT Battery** Per Battery or 1 hour of use 91.207
GPS Data Base IFR  
VOR IFR, every 30 days 91.171

*A 100 hour inspection is required if:

  • The aircraft is carrying people or property for compensation – or – a person is giving flight instruction and providing the aircraft
  • If you forget and have the aircraft inspection at 110 hours, the next 100 hour inspection is due 100 hours from when it was originally due. (You can’t roll it forward like an Annual Inspection due date).


An ELT must be attached to the airplane and the ELT batteries must be checked annually for corrosion.

Batteries must be replaced:

  • If the transmitter has been in use for more than 1 cumulative hour, or
  • When 50% of their useful life has expired. If they are rechargeable batteries, when 50% of their charge life has expired.

In plain English, all of the batteries must have the same expiration date and they must be replaced upon reaching 50% of their useful life, based on the expiration date on each battery cell.

Required Equipment, VFR DAY (A TOMATO FLAMES)

  • AIRSPEED Indicator.
  • TACHOMETER, (for each engine).
  • OIL PRESSURE gauge, (for each engine using a pressure system).
  • MANIFOLD PRESSURE gauge for each altitude engine. That’s a turbocharged reciprocating engine. Its manifold pressure is boosted and therefore, you must be able to monitor that pressure).
  • TEMP gauge for each liquid cooled engine.
  •   OIL TEMP gauge for each air cooled engine.
  •   FUEL gauge for each tank.
  •   LANDING GEAR POSITION indicator, (if the aircraft has retractable gear).
  •   ANTI-COLLISION LIGHT system, if the aircraft was certified after March 11, 1996. (In the event of an Anti-collision light failure, you may continue to a location where repairs or replacement can be made).
  •  ELT (FAR 91.207).
  •  SEAT BELTS. If the aircraft was certified after July, 1978, you’ll also need Shoulder Straps.

Additional Equipment Required for VFR NIGHT (FLAPS)

  • FUSES; 3 of each kind required, and accessible in flight. You only need fuses if your aircraft is equipped with them. For example, if your airplane has circuit breakers, there’s no need to have fuses.
  • LANDING LIGHT, but only if you are flying for hire.
  • ANTI-COLLISION LIGHT SYSTEM, if certified after August 11, 1971.
    • In the event of failure, you may continue to a location where repairs or replacement can be made.
  • POSITION LIGHTS, on from sunset to sunrise. (Ref. FAR 91.209).
  • SOURCE OF ELECTRICAL POWER (alternator or generator).

Required Equipment for an IFR Flight, (In addition to the equipment required for VFR):   (FAR 91.205)


  • DIRECTIONAL GYRO (DG) or equivalent.
  • RATE OF TURN indicator or an additional attitude indicator
  • GENERATOR or Alternator with adequate capacity.
  • SKID / SLIP Indicator
  • CLOCK installed in the aircraft, displaying hours, minutes and seconds.
  • RADIOS & NAV. Two-way radios and NAV equipment appropriate to the ground facilities to be used.

 You can take off with inoperative instruments or equipment that are not required by FAR 91, as long as the “bad” instrument or equipment is removed or placarded “INOPERATIVE”, and a pilot or mechanic determines that the loss of that instrument or equipment is not a hazard. The bad instrument/component must be unpowered.

Minimum Equipment List (MEL) (FAR 91.213)

Your aircraft MEL can be authorized by the airworthiness certificate holder to allow a takeoff with inoperative instruments or equipment. It can never take away from the equipment required for VFR day, VFR night, or IFR (day or night).

  • The MEL must be approved by the FAA.
  • The MEL and the FAA’s letter of approval must be carried in the aircraft.

 Required Documents in the Aircraft (FAR 91.203, 91.9)

  • A irworthiness certificate.
  • R egistration certificate.
  • R adio license, (SOME commercial operations & SOMETIMES, if you are leaving the USA or communicating with a foreign controller). NOTE: It is not enforced  in Mexico, they never mention a “Radio License”.
  • O perating limitations (The Owner’s Manual).
  • W eight and balance data.

A Post Maintenance Test Flight

How many times have you had your aircraft in the shop for some repairs or even its annual inspection, and then you just taxied it back to your hangar; never flying it until your next trip? I hope you’ll think about a post maintenance test flight next time your baby has some work done on it. At the very least, you’ll need to have a post maintenance test flight (without passengers) whenever your aircraft has been maintained, rebuilt, or altered in a manner that may have appreciably changed its flight characteristics or substantially affected its operation in flight.

Perhaps your mechanic may have counseled you to make such a test flight, or maybe not. If not, that’s because the FARs don’t require your mechanic to offer such counseling. The FAA looks to the owner to make that call.

Certain kinds of maintenance, such as horsepower increases, speed mods, etc., require a post maintenance test flight. That’s because these alterations are intended to appreciably change the flight characteristics of an aircraft, or substantially affect its operation in flight.

If you have an engine teardown or prop overhaul, do you need to test fly your aircraft? Absolutely and for good reason! There are many cases where a post engine teardown or a post engine overhaul flight has resulted in serious engine problems. In addition, the first flight after maintenance is by far the most likely time for an equipment failure that could affect flight safety.

To be safe, a test flight in day VFR conditions should be flown every time an aircraft is returned to service after maintenance. Fly this flight as if you were a test pilot, in a safe environment close to an airport, just in case something goes “south”.

A Mooney owner flew his aircraft to Nassau and while there, he had a prop strike. You know what that means, don’t you? That’s right, the Mooney went into the shop in Nassau and the insurance company issued a $25,000 check to the shop to cover the engine teardown, prop replacement and minor airframe repairs.

Now that the shop had their money, they were in no hurry to fix the airplane, so things dragged on and on – for a full year. Finally, they  shipped the engine to Florida for the teardown, ordered a replacement prop, performed some airframe repairs, reinstalled the engine, and installed the prop.

When the owner finally received word that his Mooney was ready, you can imagine his excitement. He flew commercially to the Bahamas, jumped into his Mooney and took off for the 160nm flight to Ft Lauderdale.

Just a few minutes after takeoff, the fuel pressure had dropped far below normal, the engine was unable to give more than 50% power, the prop pitch was uncontrollable, and the landing gear would not fully retract.









I am not sure what the owner was thinking, but instead of returning to Nassau, the pilot continued his flight over the Atlantic Ocean and managed to land at Ft Lauderdale. Wow! Just wow! If it had been me, the pucker factor would have been so intense that doctors would have needed to surgically remove the seat cushion from my rear end.

The Nassau maintenance was so bad that the Mooney remained in the Ft Lauderdale maintenance facility for the better part of another year. During that time, the shop performed extensive repairs to the airframe, tore the engine down – again, replaced the prop governor, carburetor, fuel pump, and fuel selector valve.

Next time you have maintenance performed on your aircraft, don’t argue about a test flight  . . Just do it!!

Signs your engine is going to fail


Low Oil Pressure

If you notice dropping oil pressure, you might have a broken or cracked oil line. Low oil pressure is usually accompanied by high oil temperature. An oil pressure indication below 10 psi, means you’re about to experience engine failure. Get that puppy on the ground ASAP.

High Oil Temperature

High oil temperature usually occurs when there’s not enough oil inside the engine. There might be a trace of oil remaining and that small amount circulates quickly throughout the engine, but fails to keep things cool and lubricated.

High oil temperature is usually accompanied by a drop in oil pressure. If the oil pressure remains normal, you probably have a faulty oil temperature gauge. Land ASAP.

Dropping Fuel Flow

If you notice a drop in fuel flow, you might have a failing fuel pump, some sort of valve, or leaking fuel line. Most commonly, we turn on the boost fuel pump. If that doesn’t work and fuel flow continues to decrease, your engine will eventually quit. Land ASAP.

Fuel Starvation

Improper fuel management causes far too many GA accidents. According to AOPA Air Safety Institute, pilots are forced to land nearly two times per week, mostly because they didn’t use good judgement when planning. In New Zealand, the pilots are a slightly safer, averaging a little over one incident per week. If you’re running off of a tank that’s nearly empty, you’re putting yourself in a bad spot and you’re likely to make the local news. At the very least, you’ll scare your passenger(s) and they may never fly with you again!

 Engine Roughness

There’s a variety of reasons an engine might run rough. A failed magneto, damaged components, carburetor ice, primary engine induction air system blockage, and improper mixture management are some of the most common reasons. Start looking for the cause right away, and if you can’t solve it, plan to get on the ground before things get worse. Land ASAP

Drop In RPM Or Manifold Pressure

Carbureted Engine: A drop in RPM or Manifold Pressure could be a sign that your engine has carburetor ice. If you don’t correct the problem with carburetor heat, more ice could build up and cut off the fuel/air mixture required for your engine to run.

Turbocharged Engine: A loss of manifold pressure could be a result of a Primary Engine Induction Air System Blockage – icing. The Automatic Alternate engine induction air system should open automatically. (ALT AIR annunciator should illuminate). If it doesn’t open automatically, manually pull the Alternate Air knob.

Rising Manifold Pressure

This could be a sign that your engine is about to fail, or already has started to. As the engine fails, air pressure inside the engine will begin to return to ambient air pressure. For instance, if you’re flying with 22 inches of manifold pressure and experience an engine failure on a standard day at sea level, manifold pressure in that engine will rise to approximately 29.92 inches. Land ASAP

Visible Leaks, Flames, Or Smoke

Do you notice fuel or oil steaming down the cowling, wings, or fuselage? Even worse, do you see flames or smoke coming from the cowling of your engine? These are some of the most dangerous signs of an oncoming engine failure. Land ASAP

 Catastrophic Failures

In extreme cases, parts have been known to rip through the cowling and fly away. In rare cases, entire pistons have ripped free of their connections, puncturing the cowling and causing the engine to vibrate to the point of destruction. Land ASAP

 The ABCs of an Emergency Landing

 A = Airspeed

Maintain the aircraft’s best glide speed. Maintaining this speed ensures that you’ll maximize your range so that you have more distance and time to set yourself up for a nice landing and complete the appropriate checklist.

B = Best Place to Land

If you’re out in the middle of nowhere, it’s not usually too hard to find a field to land in. It can be challenging to find a decent place to land if you’re over a congested area, though. You’ll want to find a place quickly either way, but there are a few things to consider before you rush to a decision.

Choose a landing area away from people or buildings. Fields are good options, but exercise caution as there are often times large ditches, irrigation trenches and power lines surrounding them. Once you find a place to land, try to set up a normal traffic pattern for your approach, remembering to land into the wind when possible.

C = Checklist

Check your AIRCRAFT’S OPERATING HANDBOOK for your specific procedures

After you establish best-glide speed and are headed toward your landing spot, you should try to re-establish power.

  • Switch to another Fuel Tank
  • Cycle the Magnetos
  • Turn the Boost Pump ON

If you can’t get the engine to develop power, you should begin the emergency landing checklist so you can have a fighting chance at a survivable landing.

  • Seat belts – ON
  • Shoulder harnesses, if equipped – ON
  • Door – UNLATCHED
  • Fuel selector – OFF
  • Mixture – IDLE CUTOFF
  • Mags – OFF
  • Flaps – AS DESIRED