FIS-B: What every GA pilot always wanted (at least I do…)

This is the 14th in a series of articles looking at the impact of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) on GA pilots.

The last discussion on Traffic Information Service–Broadcast (TIS-B) was a clear example of how the FAA is trying to put together a Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) program that all of us in general aviation can sink our teeth into. Flight Information Services-Broadcast (FIS-B) is no different. Again, it is offered to primarily general aviation airplanes that incorporate a Universal Access Transceiver (UAT) to operate under ADS-B.

So what is FIS-B? Flight Information Services-Broadcast will provide free weather to pilots, along with all the goodies that all of us use when planning most flights. I say “most” because I still see so many of my fly buddies go for weekend putts and never even consider any of these services.

This feature holds more power than many want to talk about. When we say free weather we mean the entire gamut of features and products that every pilot should be looking into. Many generalize these features down to meteorological and aeronautical information.

However there are some key attributes that are imported directly into the cockpit without even requesting them. It can be displayed either by a full color graphics overlay on your GPS display and/or written to the cockpit and displayed again on your cockpit display by way of text messaging. These text messages, in my opinion, are very powerful, if not only for the fact that at any time you can go back and review each report without having to contact ATC or FSS. This will just make cockpit management that much more efficient, not to mention increase safety. If you look at it from strictly a statistical viewpoint, more than 20% of the reported NTSB accidents are weather related.

Wow, sounds cool but wait, there is more:

  • We will get routine weather blasts by way of text messages and/or displayed text for weather reporting at fixed intervals (METARs).
  • Special Aviation Reports (SPECIs)
  • Terminal Area Forecasts (TAFs), including amendments
  • NEXRAD regional and CONUS participation maps (Doppler)
  • Airmens Meteorological Conditions (AIRMET).
  • Significant Meteorological Conditions (SIGMET), including Convective SIGMET
  • Pilot Reports (PIREPS)
  • Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs)
  • Winds and Temperatures Aloft
  • Status of Special Use Airspace (SUA)

Just imagine having all these tools at your fingertips any time you fly — how awesome is that! So the next question is “All these features are fine and good but what about their performance characteristics?” Let’s dive into this and see just what kind of job was done with this.

  • All AIRMETs are updated when they are available and are transmitted every five minutes.
  • Convective SIGMET are reported when they are available…then every 15 minutes for a full hour.
  • METARs and SPECIs come in every minute and as available
  • NEXRADs Reflectivity (CONUS and Regional) reports every five minutes or 10 minutes in Clear Mode
  • All AIRMETs are updated when they are available and are transmitted every five minutes.
  • METARs come in every minute and as available
  • PIREPs and SUV comes in as they are available
  • Winds Aloft every 12 hours
  • SIGMETs as Available and then every 15 minutes
  • TAFs comes in every eight hours

It is almost like calling FSS without the need to contact them.

FIS-B and TIS-B are considered by the FAA as “essential” services enhancing the situational awareness for each pilot. These are solely advisory services. Neither need to be certified and do not have published operating procedures.

Over the course of the last year or two these two features have been available on several ADS-B In products that output all this data on top of some moving map program “apps” for iPads. Although not certified and not UATs, this, again, shows how the market is adopting to these new technologies while at the same time keeping the pricing relatively low in comparison to what a full fledged ADS-B system can actually cost.

This means for all you guys with no electricity in your aircraft, you can run these things on batteries and fly safe. So all you pilots flying Aeronca, Cubs and the like out there, it pays to check this out.


Jeffrey Boccaccio is a private pilot and chief engineer at MatchBox Aeronautical Systems ( You can reach him at or

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