IFR Fix: Coded weather? GMAB!

August 19, 2014

Did you score 100 on your instrument rating knowledge exam?

Missing one of 60 questions on the instrument rating-airplane exam reduced your score to 98. Still, the designated examiner who reviewed your test before your checkride was probably very impressed. In 2013, the average passing score for 12,861 instrument rating applicants was slightly above 80. The pass rate was 85 percent.

How it must gnaw at a diligent test-taker to miss a perfect score by one question. The anguish comes from wondering which question was answered wrong. Today’s instant test scores point you to the relevant subject material to review—a change from how it worked when pilots took written tests that truly were pencil-and-paper exercises. Your score eventually arrived via (snail) mail, when you got to find out the specific question you missed.

Questions involving coding and decoding weather, pireps, or notams have always been a pitfall. Misinterpreting a string of characters in the remarks section of a METAR can cost points. It’s easy to transpose a bit of code when answering a question like this from a current instrument-rating sample exam:

"When the visibility is greater than 6 SM on a TAF it is expressed as

A) 6PSM.

B) P6SM.

C) 6SMP."

In the Aug. 12  "IFR Fix: Careful what you wish for", readers were challenged to make a go/no-go decision, choosing one of three alternatives after reading a string of coded METAR remarks describing movement of an area of towering cumulus clouds with observed lightning. In comments, several of 450 respondents sought assistance decoding "TCU ALQDS MOV SE OCNL LTGIC DSNT SE."

Help flowed. One commenter wondered why, in the iPad age, the FAA is still presenting information in "teletype mode." (In the online airport listings in AOPA Airports, you can check a box for plain-language METARs.)

But have you checked your email lately? Coded communication—think LOL, GMAB, etc.—is roaring back in the iPad era, with glossaries online to help you interpret the multitude of acronyms and abbreviations. Its benefit—brevity—may make the case that WX-BRIEF shorthand hasn’t completely outlived its usefulness, especially for that last-minute phone briefing from a remote airport’s ramp, with TCU in ALQDS.

If it’s been a while, try starting your next proficiency session by getting the weather with a pad, not the iPad. Can your shorthand handle the job?

Something to ponder, AAR.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.