An ambitious AOPA Air Safety Foundation online education program dubbed "SkySpotter TM" was announced at AOPA Expo 2001 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The program is intended to increase the number of pilot reports (pireps) by providing free training. The effort is expected to improve both the quality and quantity of weather information for pilots and the accuracy of National Weather Service (NWS) forecasts.
"If every pilot on a cross-country flight submitted just one pirep, we would likely see a decrease in the weather accident rate," said Bruce Landsberg, ASF executive director. "At the very least, pilots would have an easier go/no-go decision to make."
Pilots wishing to become an ASF SkySpotter need only complete ASF's online training program and pledge to provide at least one pirep on every cross-country flight, whether that report merely confirms forecast conditions or helps correct erroneous forecasts. Successful course completion includes a graduation certificate suitable for framing.
Co-sponsored by the Federal Aviation Administration and the NWS, SkySpotter is available only on the ASF Web site. The site's interactive training program teaches pilots how to formulate and deliver the highest-value pireps and includes official criteria for accurately reporting critical weather conditions such as airframe ice accumulation or turbulence.
In introducing SkySpotter, Landsberg noted that continued visual flight into deteriorating weather has been a leading cause of fatal general aviation accidents since aviation accident record keeping started in 1938. In 1999, ASF's Nall Report on general aviation safety listed weather as a primary factor in more than one fifth of all fatal pilot-related GA accidents.
"From the DC-2 and DC-3 era...pilot reports have been an integral part of flying," said Captain Bob Buck, retired TWA captain and a longtime member of the ASF Board of Visitors. "[They] help save our hides. Tell what's out there so the next person can cope with it." He added that pireps are also used by National Weather Service forecasters to improve the accuracy of various aviation forecasts.
Pilots have long bemoaned the paucity of pireps, especially in areas where weather reporting stations are sparse and conditions can rapidly change. Despite efforts by the FAA and others, the lack of pireps has historically been worst early in the morning, just when many pilots are contemplating a go/no-go decision.
"As pilots, we should make an effort to report the weather we find, particularly cloud tops and bases, icing, turbulence, thunderstorms, or anything unusual. These reports not only help pilots directly, but they help the weatherman report and forecast, which finally helps pilots and a lot of other people too. Weathermen have information on places that report weather, but they do not know what's in between," Buck added.
Among other things, SkySpotter includes instruction on the easiest ways to submit a pirep. Links to official icing and turbulence reporting criteria are included.
The AOPA Air Safety Foundation was founded in 1950 to promote general aviation safety through research and education. Since its establishment, the total general aviation accident rate has fallen from 46.6 per 100,000 flight hours to just 7.05 per 100,000 flight hours. ASF safety efforts are funded primarily by contributions from individual pilots and companies interested in promoting general aviation safety.