The number of pilots who call Flight Service for initial weather briefings continued trending lower in 2019, with online alternatives and apps picking up the slack, according to the 2019 AOPA Weather Survey.
The 2019 survey also noted the ways two initiatives AOPA supports—the FAA’s Weather Information Modernization and Transition program, and the National Weather Service’s Hazard Simplification Project—can contribute to updating how aviation weather data is processed and delivered.
The survey was based on responses AOPA received during March and April 2019 from 2,056 individuals in the continental United States, 160 people in Alaska, and 29 in Hawaii.
The 37 percent of pilots in the continental U.S. who reported using Flight Service for initial preflight planning was down from 40 percent in 2018 and 54 percent in 2017. The declining use of Flight Service for initial briefings was most pronounced in Alaska, where 45 percent of respondents said they considered Flight Service their primary briefing source, down from 49 percent in 2018 and 64 percent in 2017.
On the other hand, “Pilots value the service and consistently indicate it is an important safety resource when a question comes up regarding weather for a given flight. Flight Service specialists should remain available and accessible, during preflight and inflight, for general aviation pilots as they are a primary resource when it comes to weather understanding,” the report said. It acknowledged the need to review the services Alaska Flight Service should provide as activity trends change going forward.
Pilots depended more heavily on Flight Service for weather information immediately before flights, and the service held its position as second-most-relied-on information source behind aviation apps from 2017 to 2019. In Alaska, the use of weather cameras—not available in the other states—is becoming more of a factor in the immediately-before-flight briefing category.
As more pilots embrace cockpit technology including Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast ahead of the Jan. 1, 2020, ADS-B Out mandate, the survey identified a “larger number of pilots using EFBs, like iPads, and the use of free weather and aeronautical information in the cockpit” via the Flight Information Service-Broadcast (FIS-B) component of ADS-B. Its use increased in the continental U.S. from 62 percent in 2018 to 66 percent in 2019.
The tech trend raises the question of what “legacy” products should be retired, and has placed the familiar Wind and Temperature Aloft Forecasts, Weather Depiction Chart, and textual airmets, under a spotlight for possible elimination.
“About 60 (percent) of pilots do use the Wind and Temperature Aloft Forecast product at least sometimes, which indicates a need to further scrutinize this product before retiring it. On the other hand, the Weather Depiction Chart is not a popular product and most pilots indicated its removal would not have a negative impact on their flying. Likewise, the textual AIRMET is not used by most pilots and the G-AIRMET (graphical airmet) was preferred,” the report said, noting that Alaska and Hawaii’s products are excluded from the result.
AOPA issued five recommendations based on the survey: three encouraging progress on weather-infrastructure development to meet the unique needs of pilots in Alaska; one to identify reasons why pilots don’t submit more pireps; and one to bring aviation’s perspective into the National Weather Service’s Hazard Simplification Project. The project is an effort to create a “weather-ready nation” by increasing public awareness and preparation for weather-related and water-related hazards.
Pilots can provide feedback to the NWS on the project to simplify the system of watches, warnings, and advisories the agency issues on hazardous weather.
The survey findings have been presented to a safety analysis team of the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee, and are also regularly discussed at conferences of the Friends and Partners of Aviation Weather organization.
AOPA also makes the data available to the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization for the ATO’s development of its list of the Top 5 safety initiatives for the air traffic system.