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WX Watch: VFR not recommendedWX Watch: VFR not recommended

Is this advisory on the way out?

Is a weather briefer’s mentionof “VFR not recommended”—or “VNR”—worth keeping as part of a standard weather briefing? After all, any diligent pilot should be able to determine if marginal VFR, IFR, or otherwise hazardous weather conditions are challenging enough to invoke a go/no-go decision.
Weather Watch

That’s the reasoning behind a move to eliminate the VNR advisory. Nav Canada has already done away with the VNR advisory, citing nothing but complaints, and word has it that the FAA is of the same mind.

One problem is that the advisory is too subjective and gives vague guidance. “VFR isn’t recommended,” a briefer will say, often without much elaboration. The Pilot/Controller Glossary simply says that the VNR recommendation is “to be given when the current and/or forecast weather conditions are at or below VFR minimums. It does not abrogate the pilot’s authority to make his/her own decision.”

So if a pilot determines that he or she will be flying VFR over the top during a portion of a flight, and can climb and descend in VFR conditions for the departure and arrival segments of flight, the VNR advisory may not mean much (see “Making It Better,” bottom). It’s nice to know that the current or forecast conditions near the surface are likely to be below a 1,000-foot ceiling and have less than 3-statute-mile visibilities, but these conditions may not lie along your route of flight; they just happen to be in the general area. Besides, many pilots now take advantage of datalink weather services that give near-real-time updates on weather—updates that are invaluable in making weather avoidance decisions on the fly.

Under today’s flight service system in the continental United States, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico, which is operated by Leidos Flight Service, you can create a profile that briefers can see when you get a weather briefing by telephone. It shows your name, your aircraft’s registration number, home airport, and address and contact information.

Some question the abilities of briefers to make an in-depth analysis of weather. They are not meteorologists, after all. They are trained in the basics, then the emphasis is on interpreting and passing along the aviation weather products—METARs, TAFs, and so on. And as I understand it, briefers have a fair amount of latitude in how they review weather products.

Of course, you could say the same thing about pilots. This brings up the overwhelming popularity of preflight self-briefing via the many sources of weather information on websites and apps. The Aviation Weather Center’s offerings (aviationweather.gov) are great examples of ever-evolving improvement in the way preflight weather information is being presented to pilots. This means a steady progression away from textual weather information and toward more graphics. Now, even the least-weatherwise, or weather-curious, among us can look at, say, the AWC’s convection, icing, or Graphic Forecast for Aviation (GFA) tools and see detailed, graphic forecasts of adverse weather for the next day—and at various time frames and altitudes. And, increasingly, pilots are obtaining full briefings through electronic flight bag apps or online through Leidos’ web portal (1800wxbrief.com).

It all seems like part of a plan. Years ago, we had in-person, walk-in preflight briefings at flight service stations located on select airports. Then the FAA moved toward a privatization of sorts for some flight service functions with the FAA DUATS providers. Now, the internet and datalink weather are king. With each step, the responsibility for obtaining and interpreting weather shifts more to the pilot. It seems to be working: VFR-into-IMC accidents are down.

Through it all, there has been one constant: weather briefings over the telephone. It’s the last bastion of human contact in preflight weather decision-making, even if the VNR advisory pops up from time to time. Briefing by telephone seems old-school these days, but its value for complicated weather scenarios can’t be denied. That voice at the other end can respond to your every question, spend as much time as necessary to paint a useful picture of the weather at hand, and even file your flight plan. That goes double for student pilots and low-time, newly minted pilots launching on their first cross-country flights.

Automation’s march continues. The current FAA flight service contract is almost up, and a new one is due to be awarded later this year and implemented in 2020. Will the VNR advisory survive under the new contract? We do know the telephone briefings will be required in the next contract. They may not have a snazzy, automated aura about them, but they’re interactive—and a great help to those of us who want a double-check on the weather we just saw on a website.

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Thomas A. Horne

Thomas A. Horne

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne has worked at AOPA since the early 1980s. He began flying in 1975 and has an airline transport pilot and flight instructor certificates. He’s flown everything from ultralights to Gulfstreams and ferried numerous piston airplanes across the Atlantic.

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