NTSB Reports On Ag Flying, Weather Risks

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The agricultural aviation community needs to do a better job dealing with fatigue, risk management, and aircraft maintenance, the NTSB said in a special report (PDF) issued on Tuesday. "Ag operations are inherently flown at low altitudes, often close to obstacles and hazards," said NTSB board member Earl Weener. "That kind of flying requires rigorous risk assessment and risk management to operate safely." The board noted that agricultural operations generally rank sixth or seventh among general aviation sectors in terms of annual hours flown, but have recently ranked third in the number of accidents. Eight safety recommendations and a Safety Alert video were issued. The safety board also recently released nine recommendations addressing the need to provide more comprehensive preflight weather information to pilots.

The NTSB said the National Weather Service collects data that is not always provided to pilots during preflight weather forecasts. "What's difficult to understand is why weather advisories from the National Weather Service to the general public, at times, provide more comprehensive information about weather conditions than the advisories they provide to pilots experiencing the same conditions," said board member Weener. "Why pilots would receive less information makes no sense, and increases the risk of flying in severe weather conditions." The board issued nine recommendations to the FAA and NWS addressing the need to provide more comprehensive preflight weather information to pilots. "Timely, detailed weather information is critical for enabling airmen to properly balance risks and make sound decisions when determining to fly," the NTSB said.

The recommendations are based on NTSB accident investigations involving aircraft encountering weather conditions such as adverse surface wind, dense fog, icing, turbulence, and low-level wind shear. Currently, although information on these conditions may exist, it is not always provided to pilots through NWS products during preflight weather forecasts. Also, although the NWS routinely advises pilots of turbulence and weather patterns associated with mountain wave activity, which can cause unique and adverse flying conditions, there are no requirements for the NWS to issue advisories specific to mountain wave activity. "Safety will be enhanced for airmen and their passengers when pilots are given a complete weather report including all of the most current weather information," Weener said.

The board's safety recommendations and discussion can be read here:

To the FAA regarding agricultural ops (PDF
To the National Agricultural Aviation Research & Education Foundation (PDF
To the FAA regarding weather information (PDF
To the National Weather Service (PDF

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