NTSB Report: Pilots, ATC Need To Improve Pirep System

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The NTSB has released a special report based on its investigation last year into the effectiveness of pilot weather reports. The report concludes that pilots need better training and procedures, and air traffic controllers need to do more to be sure the pilot weather reporting system enhances aviation safety. One key to a safer system is better handling of the reports when they are received by ATC, says NTSB Acting Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “Even with the many advances that have been made in weather modeling and forecasting in recent years, there’s still nothing that can replicate the value of pilots’ reports of the weather conditions they encounter,” Sumwalt said. "As a longtime general aviation and air carrier pilot, I can’t overemphasize the importance of Pireps. They provide pilots of all types of aircraft with critical real-time information that can enhance safety for everyone in the skies.”

To create the special report, NTSB staffers investigated several recent incidents and accidents and engaged in discussions with members of various Pirep user groups. This research revealed deficiencies in the handling of Pirep information that resulted in delays, errors and data losses. The report details numerous factors that make it hard for air traffic controllers to solicit, collect and disseminate Pireps, including a lack of consistent best practices, insufficient automation capabilities and a lack of scenario-based training. Some of the positive actions that could improve the system, the NTSB concludes, would be to emphasize the importance of Pireps during pilot training and create standard criteria for reporting weather conditions. Also, the FAA needs to address pilots’ concerns that they could be targeted for enforcement action if they report about encountering adverse weather conditions beyond what they or their aircraft are rated for.

The 68-page report is posted online.

Comments (3)

I'm glad they included section 2.1.4 -- reticence of pilots to report adverse weather for fear of the FAA pursuing enforcement action. For example, I've heard stories of inspectors who pursued enforcement against pilots who filed a PIREP for an inadvertent ice encounter.

As the report rightly observes, the FAA's position statements on what constitutes "known icing" are rather confusing and vague, to the extent that it's not even clear that an ASRS report would provide protection in such a case. This is a situation that needs to be remedied.

Posted by: MICHAEL KOBB | April 19, 2017 11:55 PM    Report this comment

As it goes to PIREPS: Years ago, you didn't have to call Flight Watch to find out (or report) where bad wx was. All you had to do was listen. There was a "party line effect," and you could tell where bad wx was just by listening.

Then it got quieter and quieter on Flight Watch and the party line effect went away.

At first I thought it was the bad economy. Fewer pilots flying. But after a while, it occurred to me that it was Data Link.

I never could afford XM WX. But apparently pilots who fly in bad wx can. They didn't need to call FW anymore because they had a better picture than the Specialist could ever paint with words.

After we built a Stratux for ourselves and started getting free wx, we stopped monitoring 122.0 and it got even quieter. I figured it was just a matter of time before Flight Watch was decommissioned. And it's not like we every call FSS anymore, except to open or close a Flight Plan.

We can pretty much see for ourselves where TRW's are, and we can get SIGMETS for TURB and stuff. That leaves only ice (or perhaps unforecast SVR TURB) as the only PIREP of interest.

I expect that only those with known-ice are going to be report ice. And about the only way to report it is to ATC. Maybe if, as with illegals and the police, the FAA could tell us we could report ice without fear of being deported, we might report more.

Posted by: Mike P | April 21, 2017 12:50 PM    Report this comment

I spent 33 years and 10 months working in Flight Service and using the system. This subject, like the NOTAM system, has been broken for as long as I can remember. Yes, we don't like to tell on ourselves, but there are some creative reporting methods that can still get the message along to our fellow pilots. Much of the issue is actually getting an employee, be it a controller, specialist, or other, to disseminate the data after it is received. Adding language to handbooks/orders only goes part way. Years ago the FAA met, many times, with industry representatives regarding flight services, with PIREPs being one of the hottest topics. The AOPA Sky-Spotter program was a step in the right direction. Until a pilot can enter their own PIREP, or a controller can enable a voice-to-text entry for PIREPs given on a frequency, I fear we will not see a meaningful increase in PIREP receipt and dissemination.

Posted by: Randy Rogers | April 23, 2017 9:10 AM    Report this comment

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