There’s an App for That
Technology and cockpit workload tend to work hand-in-hand to present another obstacle for submitting PIREPs. Pilots are often already task-saturated when an unexpected or adverse weather condition comes their way, which puts filing PIREPs lower down on their priority list. But that reluctance can more often be attributed to the method used for submitting, which according to AOPA’s survey, is predominantly via a radio call to ATC or flight service. Although this number has likely changed since the survey was conducted in 2016, only eight-percent of the survey respondents indicated that they used on-board technology (e.g., tablets, avionics) to submit a PIREP.
That matters greatly as pilots are often deterred from reporting weather by having to interrupt communications on an already congested ATC frequency or leave an ATC frequency for fear of missing important instructions or advisories. When pilots responding to the AOPA survey were asked what would encourage more PIREPS, the most frequent comments involved making it simpler to file PIREPS, specifically the ability to automate filing via electronic technology.
The good news is that this technology does exist and is continuing to gain ground. Tablet and smartphone-friendly PIREP submission tools are becoming more popular, some with time-saving, auto-populated values based on user preferences or GPS data. And as datalink capabilities evolve, PIREP text messages may soon be on the horizon for GA. The FAA also has an electronic PIREP submission tool at the National Weather Service’s Aviation Weather Center Digital Data Service (ADDS) website. Registered users can electronically submit turbulence and icing PIREPs on the site, which are instantly displayed in graphical form and distributed nationwide. Visit www.aviationweather.gov/user/register to register and see FAA InFO 14011 – Electronic Submission of Pilot Weather Reports (PDF download) for more details.
Fig -1 PIREP Form — Items 6 – 12 cover the “What” of a PIREP: Sky Cover (SK) includes cloud amount, bases, and tops. Weather (WX) reports precipitation, flight visibility and any restrictions to visibility. Pilots should report Temperature (TA) and Wind (WV) when known. Intensities of Turbulence (TB) and Icing (IC) should be reported as objectively and accurately as possible — reference the AIM or AC 00-45H for details. Remarks (RM) clarify or add information not contained in other elements, such as the movement of thunderstorms, low-level wind shear, and mountain waves.
While these tools help simplify the PIREP process, be aware of their limitations, including increased head-down time and connectivity issues. What’s important to remember is to use whichever PIREP-submission method that seems most appropriate for the circumstances, considering your workload, the type of weather information, and any other relevant factors. For example, for urgent weather hazards, providing your PIREP to ATC via the radio would likely result in the most rapid, local dissemination of the information.
PIREP Tip: To help you estimate visibility, make use of your GPS or sectional chart and plotter to estimate the distance of furthest object you can see.
For the record, submitting a PIREP via radio is not as cumbersome as it might seem. ATC will almost always approve a request to leave frequency for a few minutes while en route, but avoid waiting until the last minute or while in congested airspace. Don’t get too hung up on the format. ATC can usually help with coding it properly and/or prompt you if you’ve left out something critical. That leads to our next area of concern for PIREPs: data accuracy.
Precise is Nice, Especially with Ice
Figure 1 shows the form typically used for submitting a PIREP. It might help to think of it as being in a who, when, where, and what format. The what segment does require some extra detail, but be sure not to skimp on precision for the when and where sections. As was highlighted in the NTSB’s report, PIREPs without accurate position and timing information can have little to no value in some cases. Onboard technology can help with capturing time, location, and altitude, but be sure you’re keeping tabs on accurately noting and reporting this information when you see something.
Since most pilots aren’t professional meteorologists, describing the observed conditions or the “what” of a PIREP is by nature a fairly subjective process. The ability to properly assess and relay weather conditions that pilots encounter is typically linked to their training and experience. A new or low-time pilot, for example, may have a tendency to overestimate turbulence and icing intensities.
Icing intensity should be reported as trace, light, moderate, or severe and by type (rime, clear, or mixed). Be sure to include sky cover and temperature with an icing PIREP. Turbulence intensity should be reported as light, moderate, severe, or extreme and the duration as intermittent, occasional, or continuous. A common tip for estimating turbulence intensity is to imagine how a full cup of coffee would react in the cabin: from a slight slosh in light turbulence, to flat out wearing the coffee in severe or extreme conditions.
A good way to refine your reporting skills on these two phenomena is to reference the Aeronautical Information Manual paragraphs 7-1-20, -21, and -22. Also, FAA Advisory Circular 00-45H, Aviation Weather Services, contains extensive information on how to report and read PIREPs, how to apply intensity modifiers for precipitation and other weather phenomena, and how to use the remarks section to further describe the weather phenomena. The FAA is currently reviewing ways to better harmonize and possibly revise guidance in both of these references.