Pilot weather reports (pireps) are vital to a complete picture of in-flight weather. But the system that collects and distributes them is plagued by inefficiencies that discourage pilots from filing pireps and can prevent filed pireps from being distributed, according to a National Transportation Safety Board special investigation report. The NTSB offered safety recommendations, including one that enlists the aid of a popular AOPA Air Safety Institute online safety course.
The newly released NTSB report, Improving Pilot Weather Report Submission and Dissemination to Benefit Safety in the National Airspace System, incorporates some findings of AOPA’s 2016 Pilot Report Survey and notes the AOPA Air Safety Institute’s online course SkySpotter: Pireps Made Easy as a resource for making pireps more effective.
It said deficiencies in the dissemination of pireps contributed to two of the accidents when flight crews were not informed of hazardous weather previously reported by other pilots before the accident flights encountered the dangerous conditions.
“In other cases, although PIREP issues did not contribute directly to the accident and incident causes, the investigations discovered similar PIREP-related concerns,” the report said, noting that evidence gathered during the investigation suggested that the problems are “widespread.”
The report analyzed reasons why pilots don’t file pireps, ranging from a lack of awareness of pireps’ importance to the “prohibitive obstacle” of cockpit workload.
Fear of enforcement action was also a factor. “AOPA’s review of its 2016 survey data found that about 16% of the pilots who responded (107 out of 675) expressed a concern about enforcement. Given that weather-related accidents have the highest fatality rate in GA, it is unfortunate that pilots might withhold critical safety information based on enforcement fears; the consequences of even one unreported icing or low-visibility encounter in a mountain pass could be deadly,” it said.
The report cited research that found that the idea of filing a pirep while flying did not occur to 49 percent of 189 GA pilots surveyed—a problem that spotlighted the importance of controllers soliciting pireps.
A variety of factors leave the system of disseminating pireps in need of improvement, the report said.
Air traffic controllers are required to solicit pireps under some weather conditions, and have a responsibility to distribute them. However, their primary responsibility is air traffic separation and issuing safety alerts. Also, different ATC facilities have different standard operating procedures reflecting their equipment and staff levels.
“The NTSB notes that different procedures at different facilities can affect how PIREPs are processed” into the National Airspace System, the report said.
The report also noted that pirep data-entry mistakes were “common.”
The NTSB addressed recommendations to several stakeholders—leading with one requesting that the AOPA Air Safety Institute “update your online pilot weather report (PIREP) course content to include, at a minimum, scenario-based training that uses real-world examples that (1) illustrate the value of both fair-weather and adverse-weather PIREPs, (2) explain how meteorologists use PIREPs to verify and revise aviation weather forecasts and advisory products to improve safety in the National Airspace System, (3) provide guidance on how to assess and describe weather phenomena and report their location accurately, and (4) demonstrate the various ways to submit PIREPs.”
Other recommendations were directed to aviation education organizations, the FAA, the National Weather Service, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, and the Cargo Airline Association.
“The Air Safety Institute commends the NTSB for a thorough look at PIREPS that resulted in good recommendations. We enjoyed supporting the NTSB in this initiative, and the Air Safety Institute will follow through on NTSB recommendations by updating our SkySpotter: Pireps Made Easy online course,” said AOPA Air Safety Institute Executive Director Richard McSpadden.
AOPA has strongly advocated a strengthened, more efficient pirep system on numerous fronts.
AOPA Alaska Regional Manager Tom George participates in and has blogged about an Alaska pirep working group composed of industry stakeholders, the FAA, and the National Weather Service.
Rune Duke, AOPA director of airspace and air traffic, is frequently called upon to attend weather discussions related to air traffic, and he recently provided comments on a revision of the air traffic control manual, 7110.65, with suggestions that would better highlight the impact weather has on aircraft, and the need for pireps to get into the system.
“One of the changes going into effect April 27 is language added to the controller’s duty priority to “provide and/or solicit weather information in accordance with procedures and requirements outlined in this order,” he said.
AOPA is an active participant in the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee, a group that “works to improve general aviation safety through data-driven risk reduction efforts focused on education, training, and enabling new equipment in general aviation aircraft.”