Air Transportation Federal agencies

NTSB calls for more effective pilot weather reports

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The image at the top, excerpted from flightradar24 website, shows the approximate volume of air traffic (derived from certain transponder, radar, and other data) captured in an instant in June 2016.

Photo: National Transportation Safety Board

Washington – The National Transportation Safety Board is calling for improved flight training and procedures to improve the effectiveness of pilot weather reports, according to a recently released special investigation report.

Technology to track weather conditions has improved, NTSB states, but real-time reports from the cockpit provide a valuable safety tool for alerting other pilots and air traffic controllers about weather in the skies. The information helps pilots avoid weather hazards, including those that radar and forecasts may not detect.

NTSB officials developed the report after investigating 16 plane crashes from March 2012 to December 2015. In two of the crashes, flight crews were not provided pilot weather reports that would have helped them avoid the hazards. Other investigations also uncovered concerns related to weather reports, the agency notes.

NTSB identified two overlying categories in which problems existed:

  • Submission issues: Pilots provide “relatively few” weather reports, the quality of reports varies greatly and air traffic controllers do not consistently ask for reports to be submitted.
  • Dissemination issues: Air traffic controllers and others who receive weather reports do not always distribute the information accurately or in a timely manner.

“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,” NTSB Acting Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt said in a press release. “As a longtime general aviation and air carrier pilot, I can’t overemphasize the importance of [pilot weather reports]. They provide pilots of all types of aircraft with critical real-time information that can enhance safety for everyone in the skies.”

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