GA: Weather Wise

By Earl Weener

Radar image of weather patternsRecently, the NTSB announced its 2014 Most Wanted List, and is again highlighting General Aviation (GA).  This year, as opposed to the previous two years, the agency is focusing specifically on GA in terms of weather related issues – zeroing in on a factor that turns up in several categories of recurring GA accidents.

As a GA pilot myself, as well as an experienced flight instructor, I not only enjoy flying but also sharing my flying experiences and encouraging others to try it – but this is a challenge, when GA is not considered a safe pursuit.  Unlike the commercial aviation industry, where a dramatic reduction in fatal crashes has occurred over the last decade, GA accident numbers remain stubbornly stuck; and hazardous weather is a factor in several categories of these accidents, including loss-of-control, in-flight breakup, and controlled flight into terrain.

For the past two years, I have collaborated with both the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and representatives from the GA community to improve the GA accident rate. Joint activities such as the GA Joint Steering Committee and the GA Summits hosted by the FAA Administrator, have energized the entire community and helped coordinate a united effort.  As well, in addition to these joint initiatives, the NTSB has retooled its outreach efforts and is making greater use of Safety Alerts and video testimonials by its investigators – helpful material identifying key safety issues related to GA operations and guidance on how to mitigate these safety risks.

For the coming year, in support of the Most Wanted List, the NTSB will be emphasizing the  need to identify and communicate hazardous weather, within the GA community.  We will be highlighting several areas for improvement, such as providing guidance on sources of preflight weather information, educating stakeholders on the weather identification capabilities available within the community, and encouraging ways to obtain pilot and automatic in-flight weather reporting, to name a few.  Also, we will be issuing weather related Safety Alerts, such as our recent Safety Alert on carburetor icing, and continue to participate in government/industry efforts, such as the GAJSC.

Weather-wise, based on the accident statistics, it appears the GA community would benefit from a renewed focus on weather – both from how it is identified and to how information is communicated. The issue of weather touches the entire aviation community, including pilots and flight operators, air traffic control, and weather reporting and forecasting services.  If we want to affect the GA accident rate, then we need to consider how to better address weather.  I believe if we improve our weather related resources and facilitate access to weather information, GA pilots can become “weather wise” – and this will affect the GA accident rate.

Earl F. Weener, Ph.D., took the oath of office as a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board on June 30, 2010.

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