June 30, 2016

“For pilots, the difference between life and death can come down to one question: weather…or not? We cannot control the weather, but we certainly can plan for it when we receive reports about conditions experienced by others along our intended route,” said NTSB member Robert Sumwalt, who presided over a recent forum on pilot reports (PIREPs).

“PIREPs done right have enormous untapped potential to make aviation safer for pilots, passengers and people on the ground,” he added.

Sumwalt said the NTSB has investigated numerous accidents that indicate that the PIREP system is failing, which led the board to place the topic on its 2014 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements.

“I don’t think any of us think our PIREP system is functioning optimally,” said Sumwalt. The NTSB has investigated 20 accidents or incidents since 2012, in which they found issues with the dissemination of weather information.

John Kosak, NBAA’s project manager for weather and a symposium presenter, said one concern is that pilot weather reports are not being utilized as they once were. Another is that PIREPs are often submitted with incorrect information, usually regarding the time, location and weather intensity.

The PIREPs system is still largely paper-based, and many reports don’t get passed along by controllers in a timely manner to pilots who could use the information. Consequently, many pilots don’t file reports.

Properly done, PIREPs can improve the efficiency of operations in the national airspace system, since they are used by various stakeholders. ATC uses the reports for traffic control management and real-time advisories; National Weather Service meteorologists use them to create pilot weather briefings, enhanced models, and more accurate forecasts; dispatchers use PIREPs to create inflight advisories, route changes and amendments.

“The reporting of unforecasted conditions remains an important and relevant tool for every pilot,” said Jim Lara, principal of Gray Stone Advisors. “We need to support the ‘culture’ of reporting what you see, especially if it’s a surprise.”

Symposium participants also brainstormed possible ways to automate the PIREPs process, or make it easier both to file reports and to publish them in a timely manner. NTSB is developing an investigative report on PIREPs and asks those interested to send their comments to PIREP.Forum@NTSB.gov.