Area forecasts set for an overhaul

Air Safety Institute supports changes

July 24, 2014

The FAA is planning to revamp and modernize area forecasts, which have remained virtually unchanged since the 1930s. The proposed changes include switching from a text to a graphical format and providing additional details. They were developed in conjunction with a government-industry working group that included the AOPA Foundation and are supported by the foundation's Air Safety Institute.

“Area forecasts are sadly outdated. The current format is inherently limited to specific character lengths, is difficult to interpret, and very time consuming to produce,” said AOPA Foundation President Bruce Landsberg. “We support the FAA’s proposed change, which provides alternatives to the text area forecast and will allow forecasters time for higher priority tasks such as airmets, non-convective sigmets, and distribution of pilot reports that will directly affect general aviation safety.”

The proposed changes were developed by a joint government-industry working group that included representatives from the FAA, National Weather Service, National Transportation Safety Board, the AOPA Foundation, weather briefers, air traffic controllers, pilot organizations, and airlines.

Before the transition takes place, the FAA will conduct a formal Safety Risk Assessment, which will include guidance about how to best use proposed alternative weather products. Among the existing weather products identified as potential alternatives to today’s area forecasts are surface weather analysis and prognostic charts, public forecast discussions, significant weather charts, terminal aerodrome forecasts (TAFs), and airmen’s meteorological information (airmets). Taken together, these products provide information similar to that available in area forecasts with the added benefit of graphical depictions.

The FAA hopes to transition seven area forecast regions covering the contiguous United States and Hawaii to the new graphical format by early 2015. Area forecasts produced by the National Weather Service for Alaska, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico would not be affected.

Details of the FAA’s proposed changes and instructions for submitting comments are available on the National Weather Service website. The public has until Aug. 4 to submit comments to the plan.

Elizabeth Tennyson

Elizabeth A Tennyson | Director of Government Affairs and Executive Communications, AOPA

Director of Government Affairs and Executive Communications Elizabeth Tennyson joined AOPA in 1998, the same year she earned her private pilot certificate. She also holds an instrument rating and enjoys jumping out of planes almost as much as flying them.