“VFR not recommended” is a familiar cautionary statement to generations of pilots who learned to fly in pre-digital times when most weather briefings consisted of a phone call between a pilot and an FAA flight service specialist.
For the last 10 years, however, as pilots’ preferences have evolved, phone calls have given way to digital communications for procuring preflight weather information. But there is no automated equivalent of the so-called "VFR not recommended" statement in the era of the flight information service-broadcast (FIS-B) and other electronic sources of weather data.
The FAA has begun research to help answer that question and measure the present effectiveness of "VFR not recommended." The agency’s Weather Technology in the Cockpit (WTIC) program has made this research a priority as the FAA prepares to award its Future Flight Service Program contract in 2018. AOPA believes that making a decision about the usefulness of "VFR not recommended" should be a top-priority task for the FAA’s flight service.
“Due to the shift of most pilots to using self-assisted services like FIS-B and online applications, it is important the FAA understands what an effective intervention would be today and how that intervention, such as a variation of VNR, could be provided via automation,” AOPA said in a December 2016 letter urging that the efficacy of the statement be evaluated.
AOPA has met with the FAA’s research team, and will participate in an FAA/industry working group to analyze the effect "VFR not recommended" has on pilot decision making, said Rune Duke, AOPA director of airspace and air traffic.
For as long as “VFR not recommended” has been part of aviation weather briefings, student pilots have been taught that the word “recommended” is included in the familiar phrase because only the pilot, not the weather briefer, can make a final decision whether to fly.
But “VFR not recommended” has always had its critics who point out that the presence in a forecast of isolated or low-probability weather phenomena (mountain obscuration in low clouds or fog, or possible scattered thunderstorms on a sunny day in Florida, for example) can produce a “VFR not recommended” statement even when widespread visual conditions are expected.
If the statement's accuracy problem was strike one, its obsolescence in the digital age could be strike two.
“Communicating the threat of VFR into IMC has become more difficult since 2006 as VNR is now viewed as ineffective, over used, too subjective, and cannot be provided to most pilots given they utilize automated resources,” Duke wrote.
AOPA emphasized that “VFR not recommended” should not be eliminated—as was done in Canada.
“Instead, we contend that VNR and its concept should be evaluated by WTIC for improvement to become an effective intervention for those pilots who may be considering a flight that could result in VFR into IMC,” Duke’s letter continued, urging that the FAA study consider a solution for pilots who receive their weather via automation, and for those who still get their weather from a live briefer. Ultimately, it will be flight service who will make the decision to retain or improve “VFR not recommended” based on the research conducted by WTIC.
“Flight service looks forward to sharing our insights into developing recommendations to modify VNR-statement procedures that align more with the increased use of automation and meet pilot preferences for delivery of services,” said FAA Director of Flight Service Steve Villanueva.
Gary Pokodner, FAA WTIC program manager, added that he expects the program to “provide necessary objective information to Future Flight Services to support a goal of automating the VNR statement.”
“I am confident that having all the relevant stakeholders involved will not only result in successful research, but more importantly in having a path towards implementing the research results to enhance general aviation safety,” he said.