Debate: do we still need DUAT(S)?

DUAT homepage
Has DUAT(S) outlived its usefulness?

For many long-time pilots, the Direct User Access Terminal service (DUAT or DUATS depending on the provider) was a revolution. When it became available in the early 1990s, the concept of getting a weather briefing or filing a flight plan without calling Flight Service on the phone seemed incredible. And for over two decades, this was the standard way for many pilots to prepare for a flight.

But this system’s days may be numbered. A number of rumors (some backed up by the companies involved) suggest that DUAT(S) may be on the chopping block. Whether that happens or not, it raises an interesting question: do we still need DUAT(S)?

Proponents of DUAT(S) claim that the system is a critical way to enhance flight safety, and it’s a popular one too. Over 125 million briefings and flight plans were sent using the service last year alone. It’s also a bargain–for roughly $10 million, pilots get a reliable (and free) way to file flight plans and get complete weather briefings from almost anywhere. Furthermore, two companies share the contract, so there are incentives to keep improving the product and innovating with new features. These pilots say simply that the FAA is attempting to fix a non-problem by eliminating DUAT(S).

Critics argue that DUAT(S) has long since outlived its usefulness. With nearly ubiquitous internet connections, tablet apps, cell phones and so much more, these services are redundant. In particular, Lockheed Martin Flight Service has added a number of features to its online flight planning tools that do just about everything DUAT(S) does–better in some cases. Lockheed Martin also integrates directly with a number of popular aviation apps. That’s not to mention all the information available online for free. So whether it’s free websites or modern apps connected directly to Flight Service, there are better options than these legacy systems.

What do you think? Is it time to move on from DUAT(S) or should this service be saved? Add a comment below.

32 Comments

  • Isn’t DUAT/DUATS still used to file flight plans by many of the apps that supposedly would replace it? FltPlan.com and Garmin both require DUATS login information to file at least VFR flight plans, for instance, if memory serves me correctly.

    I don’t use DUATS much myself these days, but I have my private pilot students use it as part of their cross country planning toolbox. I can’t speak for DTC DUAT, but CSC DUATS is one of the few tools that provides not only course guidance but also heading guidance.

    • Many of the downstream companies that provide services on top of DUATS, such as ENFLIGHT.COM, rely on CSC DUATS, which has a very open policy providing quality data, and flight plan filing, to downstream vendors.

      Lockheed is also promoting interfaces which can be used by downstream vendors, and I know that some are adding an interface to lockheed so they won’t have all their eggs in the CSC basket.

      Downstream vendors can provide value added. Enflight provides a personal minimums analysis and color coding on top of DUATS data and NOAA charts.

  • GREAT QUESTION!!!!

    I have not used DUATS in 4 years, unless what Rob says is correct and I am really using their stuff in a different wrapper.

    I generally:
    Watch the weather channel and weather.com for big picture and non aviation forecasts
    Start with AOPA weather the day before and morning of.
    File on fltPlan.com and print out their weather and notams for study enroute as close as possible to departure;
    If there is any question I want answered before departure (pilot reports, 500mb chart, lapse rate) or if I have not had a chance to update right before leaving for the airport I call for the briefing on the way to the field. I appreciate the hazardous updates, winds aloft and pilot reports.

    One thing I just found that is really helpful and something I use all the time is the page where the terminal forecasters talk about how certain they are that their forecasts are right:

    http://www.aviationweather.gov/fcstdisc

    In flight I use WSI uplink weather and I am not shy about calling FlightWatch. I tell my buddies all the time: call flightwatch and give a pilot report! I am not sure how much I really gain from it, as all info they have is available elsewhere. I just find it a good practice and my flights are more relaxed if there is weather afoot and I get the latest from them.

    So I will be watching this post to see if I am missing out!

  • I must have 150 stored flight plans on DUATS. My son and I just spent a 2 1/2 week vacation flying all over the West from South Florida to Northern California and back. I found DUATS indispensable for calculating fuel burn at higher altitudes vs. the economy settings I use for flatland flying. Keep it!!!

  • I don’t really use it.

    Everything I need I can get from WingX. I call flight service because it’s simply much quicker and I like to hear the human voicing his concerns or input. always good to get a second opinion about something that can kill you.

    I say we take the 10 mil and create a private pilot scholarship. That’s another 1,000 new aviators every year!

      • I don’t use that function. As I said I call it in.

        I use wingX to read WX data (metars tafs etc) which I believe comes from the government, I also love the WX overlay from baron, great addition.

        I think the WX portion of Duats was essentially replaced by better systems at this point. Filing a flight plan seems like the sticky point.

  • I use DUATS for every flight. I also use WingX, which uses it. Before I even look at my Ipad, I use my home computer to access Duats and get weather briefings. I also understand that there are many apps that you can use to get weather briefings, but not all have a record that you ever looked at the weather before a flight.

  • I use DUATS for every flight for the ease of access and flight plan filing, for its reliability and accuracy, and because it leaves an official record of having obtained a briefing. I do not have a smartphone/pad and a bunch of “apps” because my experience as a professional computer/software user has been that consumer electronics and programs do not have the 24/7 reliability over the long term required for performance critical applications. I would not trust my safety or my family’s to boutique software on consumer electronic products with their planned OS and hardware obsolescence; I would go back to calling for an FAA briefing.

  • Disclaimer: I fly VFR only.

    I use ForeFlight/Stratus2 for: researching mid- and short-term Wx; flight planning; to get a briefing, filing, opening and activating my VFR flight plan (ForeFlight files via Lockheed); inflight Wx updates; inflight fuel planning; and closing my flight plan.

    Unless I’m missing something (perhaps IFR related), I say drop DUATS.

    • I fly mostly IFR and ADS-B in weather is deficient for my purposes for two reasons: I often need extensive and as up to the minute weather information as possible while taxiing, waiting for my release, and on departure. XM gives me coverage at those times (no requirement to get to 3000 feet or so to get ABS-B reception) and XM also gives me weather in the Rockies and out in places like Montana where there’s no ADS-B at all. DUATS is free and just seems to work best for me.

  • I use DUATS the vast majority of the time (except for the occasions when I don’t have a computer available and end up calling Flight Service on a phone). DUATS is still the easiest way for me to get all the information I need to know. I understand why they’d like to close it down, but I’d definitely miss it if it was gone. I’ve tried a number of the newer services, but was unimpressed and quickly went back to DUATS.

  • I use Duats for all my flight planning, IFR flight plan filing and for weather briefing in conjunction with Foreflight. I almost always file IFR. I have used Duats for the last 15 years and would really miss it if it were no longer available.

  • I use DUATS for every flight, and for filing flight plans, as well as for looking at NOTAMS and TFRs. No one above has mentioned NOTAMS, but DUATS is the best place I know of to see applicable NOTAMS related to route of flight/destination. Golden Eagle Flight Prep shows the pending and active TFRs graphically, a great way to visualize them (and it uses DUATS for the data).
    PLEASE keep DUATS!

  • I use DUATS for every flight. the fact the the FAA can go back and see when I checked in is very good. I had an accident last February and the FAA and the NTSB brought up the fact that I had checked the weather minutes prior to my ill fated flight. Yes we need to keep it.

  • Has anyone used the Lockheed-Martin online products? If so, how do you like it? https://www.afss.com/

    I’ve been using DUATS for years and really appreciate the free flight planning, while ADDS provides graphical weather and ice info on a pc or mac. I use XM weather in the air. I suspect that will all change soon.

    When I file a VFR flight plan on Duats, then later call FSS on the phone or radio to change it I can’t or have to give them the details: they don’t have it. Perhaps filing via the L-M system eliminates the problem?

  • I use DUATS constantly! Please do not get rid of it! I use it along with Foreflight to get as clear of a picture as possible. A great disservice will be handed down if DUATS is terminated.

  • I use both DUAT(S), I have the app on my phone and iPad and usually file VFR flight plans through AOPA. I like having options, and would hate to see them eliminate two of those options.

  • I mainly use DUATs at this point to ensure FAA compliance and with Foreflight to get last minute updates on weather (I fly almost all IFR). HOWEVER, 95% of my flight planning is on weather.gov (or other NOAA sites) and Lockheeds site as that is now up to par and better than Duats (personal opinion). Flightplan.com does my filing and FOB research but I’m probably going to switch that to the Lockheed site soon for filing. DUATs did not do enough to stay in this new digital age (visuals and navigation), but for a data feed (ADDS) and compliance, it is fine.

  • I use DUATS without fail on every cross country flight. I believe it to be a really valuable service and the place to start before engaging the various products available to iPad, etc. By all means, “KEEP DUATS, DOIN’ IT”

  • I have learned that any system can fail so I like to have various ways to get the information. Duats is still a low bandwidth service so via cell phone or slow wifi it shines. Keep it.

  • I have been using DUATS since 1994 and I still use it for every/every flight I make. I continue to find Duats an invaluable flight resource! Keep it.

  • I don’t know what the rest of the world is doing, but in my 50 years of flying, I have never found it easier to plan, brief and file flight plans, since DTC DUAT came on the scene. Remember waiting on the phone, for what seemed like an eternity, for an FSS Briefer? In todays world, the most popular aviation EFB in the land, (FOREFLIGHT), uses this format to do it for us, behind the scenes. I can’t imagine going back to the FSS briefer WAIT LINES. Why does the government always seem to want to fix something that isn’t broken. When something is working well, leave it alone! Do we really need to speak live briefer today, with all the weather information available to us, on our smart phones, tablets, and all the other portable devices, that we all have! I just don’t know. I mean if the weather is that bad, maybe that’s the sign that we should go? I love my DTC DUAT! I hope they don’t take it away!

  • Problem with duats is that they don’t do search and rescue afss does. And much to my surprise when you file a duats flight plan, afss doesn’t get any information except departure and destination. The route, people on board, color of the aircraft as well as a very important phone number doesnt get transmitted. Also to my surprise when a duats flight plan goes overdue as I did one day. Afss has to send an email to duats and from my understanding can take as long as an hour to get a response all the information so they can actually know my route and phone number to look for me. That shocked me!! Understanding is the whole reason for filing a flight plan was for search and rescue, and knowing now that filing with duats that flight service doesn’t get that VERY important information doesn’t make any sense. If I have a problem I want someone looking for ms ASAP not an hour later. That could mean the difference between life and death. Knowing this I now file with flight service even though it takes me an extra 3 minutes. Have a nice day!!

    • Flight service has always coordinated the search and rescue — but that doesn’t mean that it’s only LM afss. If you were filing in Alaska or flying between Alaska and the lower 48 your search and rescue is coordinated between the federal afss systems in Alaska and the contract systems in the lower 48 states.

      It is incorrect information to say that AFSS has to send an email to DUATS – they use the FAA’s NADIN message system and the DUATS vendors must reply within 10 minutes. Usually the reply is within 3 or 4 minutes since the database searches are automated.

      The additional flight plan information you mentioned (route, people on board, etc.) is not sent in the initial flight plan data because THAT’S THE WAY THE FAA REQUIRES IT! LM AFSS is causing a lot of FUD over this issue trying to make them seem more important. The fact is that DUAT/DUATS files 90% of the flight plans, so LM is trying hard to stay viable!

      The DUAT vendors have tried to get the FAA to update the format of VFR flight plan messages but have been rebuffed. But the FAA will fix this for you – by this fall you will have to file ICAO format flight plans when you file so there will be more burden on you, the pilot, to enter additional data for every flight plan you create.

  • A few thoughts on this debate.

    First of all options are always nice. As the article states DUAT/DUATS is a bargain at approximately $10 million, pilots get a reliable (and free) way to file flight plans and get complete weather briefings from almost anywhere. DUAT/DUATS files 90% of the flight plans while L-M FSS picks up the rest at approximately 10 times the cost of the two DUAT Vendors combined.

    DUAT/DUATS does provide information for Search & Rescue. In fact they’ve been providing this information to FSS & ARTCC for 25 years.
    I spoke to someone at their Help Desk and was informed that all pilot and aircraft information is retained for 15 days for Search & Rescue purposes.
    So Bill is correct in stating DUATS uses the FAA’s NADIN message system and the DUATS vendors must reply within 10 minutes. Usually the reply is within 3 or 4 minutes since the database searches are automated.

    Foreflight actually files via DUATS which then transmit VFR flight proposals to L-M FSS.

    Both DUAT Vendors provide free Apple and Android device apps to access DUATS through mobile devices. DU integrates directly with a number of popular aviation apps.
    The ability to receive an FAA approved briefing which stays on file for 15 days for Search & Rescue purposes. An invaluable service which is not provided by other “ FREE “ weather services on the internet.

    Perhaps a better question is why doesn’t L-M have the flight plans that were filed via DUAT/DUATS ?
    If L-M can’t find flight plans transmitted to their “Superior System “can they find valuable Search & Rescue information transmitted to it ?
    For years flight plan filing was never an issue for pilots who filed through the 2 DUAT Vendors and then transmitted to the old FSS system.
    Only since Lockeed took over has there been the problem with lost flight plans.
    It’s my understanding L-M can’t find Search & Rescue transmissions from DUATS or have much difficulty locating it within their system.

    Is this a superior system and at what cost?

    Keep DUATS!

  • DTC Duats is the best of the three. Lockheed Martin reads like a government document. Difficult! CSC is plain and dull. Neither will allow storage of favorite routes for more than one day. DTC does. CSC does not break their briefings with Bold print. DTC does. The charts of DTC are easier on the eye an one can pull up all needed and place it in one eternal file to be pulled up instantly. Some where there is a money trail and the decision to pull DTC was probably made by a non-aviation quota hire in the FAA!

  • Lots of comments hope I didn’t miss this one: isn’t DUATS or some other official mechanism *required* to ensure receipt of TFR notices? Not sure but isn’t DUATS the only official TFR notice mechanism that is online? This makes it a must-go-to prior to every flight for me. I want it recorded that I looked for TFRs. I don’t believe I get that anywhere else. Foreflight gives me everything else I need for most flights, Foreflight rocks.

  • Just flew from Tyler, TX to Salina, KS on Nov 10. Filed IFR via Duats 1.5 hours prior to departure. On return flight same day, spoke with LM briefer who seemed disinterested during the standard wx briefing and filing. 20 minutes later when talking to Salina ground, they could find no record of the IFR filing. The earlier IFR filing via computer was also lost in the system. Had to re-file with from the aircraft. Anyone else having this problem? I didn’t think lightning struck twice in the same place let alone the same day!

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