By Alicia Herron
What are pilot reports—aka pireps? The easy, rote answer is that they are reports made by pilots that observe actual flight conditions.
This makes these reports different from the typical weather information we get, which is presented as educated guesses called forecasts. But pireps are more than the simple reports they may seem—besides helping in the go/no-go decision-making process, pireps can help change forecasts, fill in gaps between weather reporting stations, and verify (or discount) a forecast critical to your route of flight.
A common misconception is that the weather must be “bad” to give a pirep, or that if your pirep doesn’t show up on the Aviation Weather Center (AWC) website that it was not valuable. Neither is the case. While it is important to let ATC know if you encounter hazardous or unforecast inclement weather in flight (such as icing, thunderstorms, or low visibility), it is just as important to give what are called null reports. Is the air perfectly smooth where you expected moderate turbulence? Are the winds aloft far calmer than predicted? Let them know—it’ll help make the forecasts better over time. Alternately, if the weather predicted stability yet a thunderstorm pops up, give a pirep—in cases of severe weather, a pirep can be the triggering mechanism for flight advisories such as sigmets. All in all, the report you give will be valuable, even if you just call to say the weather is great.
Imagine you’re on a long cross-country, and on a 50-mile leg, with no weather reporting stations along this part of the route. You have what you think is a good picture of the overall weather—you received a briefing, after all. You expected ceilings of 6,000 feet but they’re closer to 3,000. You feel comfortable with the difference, but another pilot might not. Give a pirep in situations like this, or whenever you encounter conditions in flight that you would have liked to know about on the ground.
There is no secret language for giving pireps. Air traffic controllers need certain information from you, but the order in which you give it is not critical. If you’re already in radar contact with ATC, call and say you have a pirep—they already have your position and type aircraft, so all they need from you are the conditions you wish to report. Also, you don’t have to give a pirep in the air. You can wait until you land and give flight service a call, or even submit a pirep on the AWC website or through some electronic flight bags.
Weather forecast models improve every year, and we have more tools available to get accurate inflight weather information than ever before. The helpfulness of actual weather observations cannot be overstated—as all pilots know, forecasts are not always correct and weather continues to be a factor in accidents every year. Should you have one of those “Well, this would’ve been nice to know before the flight” moments in the air, consider it your cue to give a pirep. If you’ve never given a pirep, ask your CFI to walk you through the process on your next lesson. Pilot reports are more than appreciated—they can be critical to the safety of flight.
Learn more about pireps with ASI’s Pireps Made Easy Safety Advisor: airsafetyinstitute.org/safetyadvisor/pirepsmadeeasy