NTSB On Pireps: Pay it Forward

Key industry players gather to bring about a better system.

NTSB Pireps
The NTSB last week held a two-day Pirep forum about improving the system.NTSB

Most pilots will tell you nothing quite beats the operational advantage of a set of eyeballs that are right up close and personal with aviation weather as it happens, especially when some region of the country is experiencing engaging phenomenon like convective or freezing conditions.

For decades, a single pilot calling back to FSS or ATC with a pilot report served like the light at the end of the tunnel that kept many a hapless aviator from unexpectedly stumbling upon treacherous weather. But times have changed and NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt opened last week’s two-day Pirep forum with a frank admission: “Our Pirep system is not working as well as it should.”

Improving the Pirep system has enormous potential to improve aviation safety, says Sumwalt. He spoke to the recent probable-cause hearing on the December 2014 crash of a Phenom 100 in Gaithersburg, Maryland, in which Pireps for ice aloft were never relayed by ATC to the pilot. It’s unknown if the Phenom pilot learned of the icing conditions along his route through some other means.

Sumwalt said one thing we can do as pilots is to report what we see as we fly and make sure those reports are made available to any pilot who might need them. A few things that hinder the current system are a nearly complete dependence on pilots voluntarily reporting, as well as the accuracy of how some cockpit crewmembers report their sightings.

Because in addition to pilots, aircraft dispatchers, air traffic controllers, weather forecasters and researchers use Pireps, a lot of people over the years have tried to get the Pirep system to work together. The two-day forum brought many of those same industry people together, key players who have the knowledge and experience to make a solid stab at creating a better Pirep system. Both days of the June 21-22 Pirep forum, captured on video, make an excellent training tool, as well as food for thought about where the current Pirep system is and should be headed.