Let’s stop pretending pilots are weather experts
IT’S TIME TO STOP PRETENDING WE’RE ALL WEATHER EXPERTS
Weather impacts pilots more than any other external factor, and yet it’s the least understood subject in aviation. Many pilots, even instructors, are uneasy with the topic. Despite this — or maybe because of it — weather training for pilots usually touches only on the basics. Meanwhile, weather-related accidents continue to plague general aviation. Something has to be done.
The good news is recent advances in weather observation and forecast accuracy mean we’ve never had access to better weather information. Yet when it comes to understanding weather, general aviation pilots remain pretty clueless. A case in point is a recent Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University survey that presented pilots with 95 questions on a range of weather topics. Most who took the test failed miserably, with student pilots and non-instrument-rated pilots faring the worst and instrument-rated commercial pilots scoring the highest — but managing to answer just 65 percent of the questions correctly on average.
I didn’t take the test, but I looked at some of the questions. Could I have passed? I doubt it. One question asked pilots to decode the following weather report: “CB DSNT N MOV N.” Well, we all know that CB means thunderstorms, so that’s important. N means north. MOV means it’s moving. Gee, I wish I knew where these storms were.
We pilots are supposed to know this text denotes “cumulonimbus clouds that are at least 10 statute miles distant from the reporting station to the north and moving away to the north.” Uh-huh. That’s not exactly crystal clear from the coded weather text, which looks like something spit out by an ancient telex machine. No wonder weatherrelated accidents continue to bedevil general aviation pilots.
Embry-Riddle’s Elizabeth Blickensderfer, a professor in the Department of Human Factors and Behavioral Neurobiology who co-authored the study, explains that poor pilot training isn’t the sole culprit for our gaps in weather knowledge. “I don’t want to blame the pilots for deficiencies in understanding weather information,” she says. “We have got to improve how weather information is displayed so that pilots can easily and quickly interpret it. At the same time, of course, we can fine-tune pilot assessments to promote learning and inform training.”
Put another way, general aviation pilots deserve better weather information than they’re currently receiving. It’s time we reconsider weather dissemination methods that are causing so much confusion and start fresh with a new approach to provide pilots with comprehensive and easily digestible tactical and strategic overviews of the weather tailored to the needs of general aviation.
Weather training for pilots also needs to improve. Sure, the weather can be fickle. And it can be hard for pilots to grasp complex meteorological concepts. But we in GA need to do a better job of learning about weather, not by rote memorization of weather-related terms but through scenario-based training that challenges pilots to gather pertinent weather information so they can learn to make sound go/no-go decisions.
If we can improve how weather information is disseminated to GA pilots, we can start to move the safety needle in the proper direction. If we do it right, a dramatic reduction in the number of weatherrelated mishaps in GA is within our grasp.