When planning and executing a flight, we take in a lot of information that can help ensure the safety of that flight. Understanding what weather we may encounter during our flight is very important to avoiding dangerous meteorological conditions. Forecasts and actual conditions from weather reporting facilities play a big role in our preflight weather briefings. Pilots are another source of pertinent weather information. We learn early in our training and as we fly that reports from other pilots who experience the actual conditions can help the rest of us decide whether to go.
According to the Aeronautical Information Manual, a pilot weather report or pirep is a report of meteorological phenomena encountered by aircraft in flight. Pilots are urged to cooperate and volunteer reports to ATC, especially when such reports are solicited by ATC, so that those reports can be used to expedite the safe flow of air traffic and so that real-time information can be shared with other pilots flying in the vicinity of the report.
It’s important to consider the pireps that you receive during your preflight planning, and to listen to those that you hear while you’re en route. In at least one case, the FAA used the fact that pireps could be heard over the radio in the same sector as evidence that the airman should have known of the adverse weather conditions affecting his flight and thus should have avoided flight into conditions that were contrary to the aircraft’s operating limitations. In particular in that case, the FAA maintained that as the pilot and his flight instructor were practicing instrument approaches in overcast and near freezing conditions, they were able to hear other pilots reporting rime ice. During their first missed approach, the pilot noticed ice on the wings, and they came around to land but lost control of the aircraft and ran off the runway substantially damaging the aircraft. The FAA argued that they ignored the reports of ice and chose to continue their flight into known icing conditions. In affirming the FAA’s charges of federal aviation regulation violations, the NTSB found that the weather forecasts presented a clear risk of icing and that the pilot and his flight instructor heard or should have heard the pireps which they should have discerned came from the vicinity of the airport they were approaching. The NTSB held that it was clear error for them to have continued the flight when further evidence of actual icing or reported icing presented itself.
There was more to the case, as there often is. Still, for our purposes in reinforcing that pireps are to be included in our decision making, this case reminds us to “listen up” on the radio for such information that may be relevant to our flight.