The FAA signed a contract with its two DUATS (DIRECT USER ACCESS TERMINAL SYSTEM) contractors, GTE and DTC, to provide electronic weather briefing services to pilots for the next year, with four one-year options following on. Under this agreement, the government provides the phone connection and the contractors provide the computer interface and customer service with data coming from the FAA`s Weather Message Switching Center. According to the FAA, the reason there are two contractors for one program is to promote competition, with the goal of improved service.
Besides being tremendously convenient to pilots, DUATS has been a big money-saver for the government. It is estimated that every time a pilot fires up the computer and logs onto DUATS instead of calling a flight service specialist, it saves the government about $30. For each DUATS briefing, the feds pay the DUATS provider a fixed fee; last year it amounted to about $1.70 per call. DUATS can also accommodate a far greater number of callers during peak morning briefing than live briefers can.
In the past few years the look of DUATS has gone beyond the straight text-based interface of early years. The system now supports faster modem access speeds, and both GTE and DTC feature. Windows interfaces. There are a host of improvements, allowing pilots to prepare their requests offline, to stay online longer (up to 15 minutes, from five minutes), to file international (ICAO) flight plans, and to close VFR flight plans. Both systems also now offer a high degree of automation. Pilots can log on without entering a password or access code, which are stored in the program and sent automatically.
The availability of weather graphics, however, is probably the biggest of the DUATS improvements. Previosly, pilots who wanted graphics had to pay for them, either going through DTC or GTE, or to a third-party weather provider like Jeppesen. With the inception of free graphics, the only competitive issue will be the quality and variety of the product. DUATS users with a 14,400 bps (or faster) modem can download seven different kinds of free weather graphics: weather depiction, radar summary, low- and high-level significant weather prog charts, composite moisture stability chart, and severe weather outlook charts. The type and quality of weather charts the two providers offer is similar, and neither offers the Nexrad radar or high-resolution satellite images available from other, user-fee-based weather providers.
Both GTE and DTC have come up with intuitive, easily-navigable interfaces. While DTC`s Windows-based interface works well, GTE`s Cirrus for Windows is more sophisticated and slightly easier to use. Cirrus, developed by Mentor Plus, also offers a map-based quick-route weather option. A pilot can click on the map, piece together a route with the mouse, send off the request, and the program will download the route-based weather, including METARs, TAFs, winds aloft, airmets sigmets, and notams. Cirrus also lets pilots download weather graphics automatically; with DTC`s program, you need to ask for the charts manually.
You need to have a current medical certificate to access either DUATS service, and existing DUATS customers do not need to sign up a new account; the two systems recognize all former passwords and access codes.
A sample of Cirrus Software from GTE DUAT:
DUATS download sites:
Click here to visit DTC DUAT
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