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Becoming a SkySpotter benefits you and your students

Think back to your last cross-country flight. How many pilot reports (pireps) did you receive during your weather briefing? Five? Three? Most likely, you got one or none at all.

Everyone has experienced that difficult go/no-go decision, when the weather is marginal. The decision can be much easier if there are pireps in the system to confirm or contradict the forecast. Unfortunately, they are all too rare. When was the last time you gave a pirep? Probably a long time ago.

The AOPA Air Safety Foundation is changing that, and by joining the SkySpotter team, you and your students can help.

By becoming a SkySpotter, you are committing to improve aviation weather information by giving pireps. Encourage your students to do the same by taking the online program. During the 30-minute course they will learn the proper way to give a pirep, how to identify weather conditions, whom to give the pirep to, and the important role that pireps play in forecasting weather. It's a great starting point for ground training sessions about weather.

Your students will learn that both flight service specialists and air traffic controllers will accept pireps, but ATC can only accept them on a workload-permitting basis. When giving a pirep, there is an order of information in which Flight Service and ATC prefer to obtain the information. Direct your students to ASF's online checklist, which they can download to use as a reminder. But remember-it's more important to give a pirep with some of the information than to not give a pirep at all because you don't have every item on the checklist.

Before even getting to that stage, however, your students need to know how to identify the weather conditions they are reporting. For example, new pilots may inaccurately report light turbulence as severe. If they really were in severe turbulence, they would be working so hard to keep the aircraft flying in one piece that giving a pirep would be impossible. Learning how to report weather will make their pireps more accurate.

Do your students know how to tell the difference between a scattered and broken layer of clouds? Instrument pilots who report the tops of cloud layers can help other pilots who may want to get above the clouds.

Most pilots know that pireps can be used on the ground to decide whether or not to begin a flight, and in the air to decide whether or not to continue. But, your students should also learn that when the Aviation Weather Center (AWC) receives a pirep, meteorologists use it to verify that their weather forecast is correct or amend it if the pirep contradicts the forecast.

Pilots give pireps often in bad weather, and ATC must request them when the weather deteriorates to a certain point. But it's just as important to submit a pirep when weather conditions are good. If icing is forecast where you are flying but the sky is clear, give a pirep. AWC will amend the icing forecast, and pilots sitting on the ground waiting for the weather to improve will appreciate it.

Pilots who successfully complete the SkySpotter program and quiz may print out a certificate of completion. A bonus of participating is that it serves as seminar attendance for the FAA's Wings program. And, once your students are part of the club they join the ranks of pilots who give a pirep on each cross-country flight, identifying each pirep as a SkySpotter pirep so the Aviation Weather Center and ASF can track it.

If your students have not yet seen the program, now is the time. Not only will they be helping fellow pilots with weather decision making, but one of them may become the 10,000th SkySpotter! Besides the obvious bragging rights accompanying that title, he or she will be pictured on ASF's Web site and will win an autographed copy of Capt. Bob Buck's book, Weather Flying, and an AOPA dual time zone watch.

Encourage your students and other pilots you know to join now. The pirep they give may benefit you one day.

Kathleen Roy is a senior research analyst for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. She is a flight instructor with multiengine and instrument ratings.

By Kathleen Roy

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