Plane & Pilot
Wednesday, November 30, -0001

Getting The Weather Straight

Pilots may not be warned of adverse weather conditions, even when others are

The NTSB says that the National Weather Service and the FAA need to do a better job of getting important weather information to pilots. In safety recommendations issued to both agencies, the Safety Board cites accident investigations in which it found that meteorologists had information about bad weather, but it never got to everyone who needed to know, including the pilots who crashed. The Safety Board said that not only must the agencies do a better job of sharing more real-time weather information with pilots, but they also need to do a better job of teaching them about dangerous weather conditions they might face.

Only two days before the Safety Board went public with its recommendations, the FAA began an eight-month educational program called "Got Weather?" The theme is to help general aviation pilots prepare for potential weather challenges they may encounter. In a promotion for the "Got Weather?" program, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta asked, "Have you fine-tuned your preflight decision-making skills? Are you confident that you can safely complete a flight if you suddenly find yourself in changing weather conditions?"

A weather checklist for pilots to use during the 2014 prime flying season was proposed, containing five salient points. First, the FAA says you should determine whether you're a proficient pilot with the necessary experience and comfort level for flying in marginal weather if you intend to do so. Second, the FAA says you should ask yourself if more training would better prepare you for the flying season. Third, it says you need to ask whether you're really educated about weather, your personal weather minimums and your limits. Next, it suggests you need a flexible safety buffer. Finally, the FAA suggests you talk to others about weather decision making. The FAA's intent was to highlight a specific area of aviation weather each month in the "Got Weather?" program. In May, the highlighted topic was turbulence.

The NTSB says aviation weather products may not contain hazardous weather information that's contained in non-aviation weather products. The Safety Board says this can happen when a particular aviation weather product, such as a Terminal Area Forecast, covers a narrowly defined geographic area, and the adverse weather is just outside of that area. It points to Center Weather Advisories as a type of product that's used to alert controllers to weather conditions, but may not be shared with pilots. The Safety Board expressed concern that the National Weather Service doesn't currently require the issuance of advisories specific to mountain wave activity. "Although the NWS routinely issues products intended to advise pilots, air traffic controllers and other aviation customers of known or expected severe turbulence associated with the jet stream or thunderstorms (indirectly), no standardized NWS product is available to specifically highlight mountain wave turbulence or other phenomena associated with MWA," the NTSB said.

The Safety Board says the weather service should modify aviation weather products to make them consistent with non-aviation products when applicable, so that pilots receive at least the same level of adverse weather information that's available in non-aviation weather products. It also suggests that the weather service establish standard guidance for its forecasters to use in determining whether hazards reported by pilots in PIREPs should be incorporated into aviation weather products they're preparing to issue.

The NTSB cited an accident that occurred on March 3, 2013, involving a Mooney M20E at Angel Fire Airport in New Mexico. The Safety Board said that there was a crosswind at the time of 33 knots gusting to 47 knots. It said that the aviation weather only warned of wind gusts to 25 knots, while two weather products not intended for aviation discussed stronger wind gusts.


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