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Area forecasts to be discontinued during 2016

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include the Aviation Weather Center source regarding the timetable to discontinue area forecasts.

The sun is setting on the area forecast.

The National Weather Service said the weather product, long familiar to pilots as a major component of preflight weather briefings, will be discontinued for the continental United States and Hawaii in the second half of 2016. Area forecasts will continue to be issued for Alaska, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico.

The FAA, in a June 2014 Federal Register notice of a proposed transition to digital and graphical alternatives, explained that area forecasts “tend to produce a broad forecast of limited value. While the Area Forecast (FA) met aviation weather information needs for many years, today NWS provides equivalent information through a number of better alternatives.”

Patrick Murphy, a senior aviation meteorologist with the FAA’s NextGen program, said that the National Weather Service “currently produces forecasts with the same information contained within the Area Forecast in other products which are much more accurate, have more detailed information, and higher resolution. These products, taken with other weather information such as TAFs (terminal aerodrome forecasts), METARs (surface observations), and radar and satellite data, will provide pilots and briefers with better situational awareness and lead to improved decision making.”

A government-industry working group that included the AOPA Foundation “recommended that the Area Forecast (FA) be transitioned to more-modern digital and graphical forecasts, observations, and communications capabilities that provide improved weather information to decision-makers,” the agency said in its notice.

AOPA was informed of the timetable for the transition by Bob Maxson, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Aviation Weather Center, said Rune Duke, AOPA director of government affairs for airspace and air traffic.

AOPA supports the transition, reporting at the time the notice was published that the FAA would conduct a formal safety risk assessment before the transition from the 1930s-era weather product takes place.

“AOPA has been involved in the process from the beginning, and will be involved in testing the prototype weather products prior to public release,” said Duke. “The association will gather information to educate members about the transition, and will work with the FAA to update its publications and testing materials.”

Several of the replacement weather products were expected to be available this year, but have been delayed, Duke said.

Area forecasts will be available for at least three months after the new weather products come online.

Instrument pilots who rely on area forecasts to determine whether to file an alternate airport will be able to use new graphical products to determine ceiling and visibility, he said. Other weather products currently available from the National Weather Service that provide information similar to area forecasts, in graphical format, include surface weather analysis and prognostic charts; significant weather (SIGWX) charts; and airmets.

The transition will require the FAA to update federal aviation regulations to remove references to area forecasts. Publications such as the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge and the Aeronautical Information Manual also will be updated. Some airman knowledge tests and supplements will be amended to remove questions and graphics related to area forecasts.

“Many pilots use area forecasts when flying, so this will be a big change, but it will be a positive change as we head away from complex text toward user-friendly graphics,” Duke said.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: Advocacy, NextGen, Weather

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