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‘Say flight conditions’‘Say flight conditions’

Aviation groups encourage pilot reportsAviation groups encourage pilot reports

Any pilot who has benefited from a pilot report filed by another flight a few miles ahead on the airway, or by a pilot who encountered unforecast conditions, appreciates the value of a firsthand account.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

So valuable are such reports that many pilots specifically request “pireps” from flight service specialists during inflight weather updates—and it’s commonplace to hear air traffic controllers request that pilots “say flight conditions” en route.

Still, many pilots may underestimate the value of pireps, and some have voiced misconceptions about pireps that deter them from participating in the sharing of their real-time information that’s so critical to flight safety.

In an effort to improve the quality and quantity of pirep submissions, representatives of AOPA, the Alaska Air Carriers Association, and the Alaska Airmen Association decided while attending the Alaska Weather and Aviation Connection Workshop in Anchorage on Feb. 5 and 6 to reach out jointly to the pilot population and address some false notions about pireps that may be holding down their distribution and use.

Three scenarios highlight some of the most common misunderstandings.

Too late to file?

You have just landed from a flight, and between supervising refueling to answering your emails, your intention to call flight service and file a pirep about the flight conditions you encountered has slipped your mind.

True or false: Now that you have been on the ground for an hour, it’s too late for your pirep to be of any value, so you might as well skip it.

Response: That’s a false notion, said Adam White, who handles government affairs for the Alaska Airmen Association. “Meteorologists greatly value pireps, even if an hour old, as it assists them with refining their forecasts and improving the weather models,” he said. “Pilots are encouraged to submit a pirep, even if they do it after they land or even after they get home from the airport, because the reports retain a lot of value.”

Pilots can submit reports to the National Weather Service’s Aviation Weather Center as explained in this May 16, 2017, report.

Pireps are only for airborne weather?

You are flying to a nontowered airfield lacking 24-hour staffing, shortly after snow has fallen. On landing you feel the effects the of snow and ice as you momentarily weathervane down the runway.

True or false: With no airport employees on site to issue a notam, there is no way to communicate the runway conditions.

Response: That’s a false notion. Pireps are regularly submitted for runway conditions at Alaskan and rural airports in the lower 48 states. These reports are important to communicating to other pilots what the real conditions are and what to expect when landing, said Jane Dale, executive director of the Alaska Air Carriers Association. “In Alaska, pireps are frequently used for runway condition reports and braking action reports. There are usually several examples on file for the state. It is a best practice to check for pireps before landing at an airport and, if it is an airport generally not attended, to give a pirep after landing to assist that pilot coming in behind you.”

Good news is no news?

As you prepare for your morning training flight, the pilot who has reserved the airplane after you asks you to file a pirep during your hour-long session. It is a perfect day to fly, with clear skies, light wind, and unrestricted visibility.

True or false: With weather so spectacular, what’s there to report? You decide against tying up a flight service specialist by calling up to file a pirep that is essentially a no-news report.

Response: A common impression, but false, because even a “null report” can communicate valuable information, said Rune Duke, AOPA senior director of airspace and air traffic. “Providing a null report is very important in areas where one kind of weather is forecast but another kind of weather materializes,” he said. “Confirming a forecast, even one for a clear day, can also be important for a meteorologist, because the pirep is one of the few means for providing feedback.”

Tom George, AOPA’s Alaska regional manager added, “Null pireps have led to sigmets being reduced in size and even canceled. Pireps can lead to changes in terminal forecasts and other weather products. Providing a null report is also helpful if they are forecasting icing and none is experienced. The forecast can be amended and then more aircraft, such as those lacking flight into icing certification, can then make their flight.”

The FAA agrees; it encourages pilots to file pireps, “as they are one of the most effective tools we can use to increase safety in the National Airspace System,” said Jim Viola, manager of the FAA’s General Aviation and Commercial Division, Flight Standards Service.

Topics: Advocacy, Pilot Weather Briefing Services, Flight Planning