Understanding the PIREP Proof of Concept Study from a Pilot’s Perspective
Vol.9 Issue 1

Since November 2022, a research team at the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI) is dedicated to exploring new ways to deliver Pilot Reports (PIREPs). These reports are actual weather observations that are encountered by a pilot during any phase of flight. These reports are extremely important to other pilots, as they provide information about their location, altitude, type of aircraft flying, sky conditions, ceiling levels, turbulence, and any special remarks that might be needed. It’s much like a friend delivering specific instructions to you before you set out on your route of travel.

Pilot Adam White delivers a PIREP as he descends into Nenana, Alaska.
Crossing the Alaska Range can be stressful as the weather can change quickly. PIREPs help pilots know what to expect for turbulence and other conditions.

Adam White, Government Affairs Liaison for the Alaska Airmen Association (AAA) is a strong proponent of this current study. "It’s an intriguing concept that’s constantly improving, and it is very easy to file. Here in Alaska, there are very few reporting stations, so it is very important for our friends in the air to let us know what’s happening," explains White. The PIREPs Study is looking at new and available technologies needed to submit a PIREP. Think of it like having a ’Siri’ or an ’Alexa’ in the air, only this smart voice technology is called ’Daisy’. The system uses a natural language processor that translates what was recorded. Pilots can not only record their observations, but they can retrieve weather observations from their intended route of travel. While the technology is not yet ready for primetime, it does pose some very viable, enhanced safety opportunities.

Rapidly changing weather and lack of weather stations make PIREPs invaluable for pilots. Image overlooks Windy Pass, Alaska Range.

In the Alaska region, most of the pilots who are contributing to the PIREPs study are either recreational pilots or Part 135 operators who are transporting people or cargo to many of the nearby villages. The participating pilots are really seeing benefits. AAA and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) are helping to get the word out about this study as each group is seeing potential benefits.

As changes are made to the system weekly and based on the pilot participants’ feedback, the research continues to evolve. As with any research, there are bugs to be worked out, but a study such as this is the safest way to examine opportunities. White explains, "this system will increase the number of pilot reports in the system, and since it is easy to perform, pilots will be open to doing it. The Alaska infrastructure needs this. Just as the weather cameras were a big boost to Alaska, these PIREPs will help other pilots and forecasters in validating forecast models. The best way to get up-to-date, accurate information out there is to have pilots talk about it, as the typical weather update is not frequent enough."

"Another thing that I like about the system, is that you can hear the weather report from the actual voice of the pilot. You get the emotion behind the report, something that you can’t obtain if you use text-to-audio conversion whenever a computer delivers data. You can hear the seriousness of say, a ground fog report," shares White.

Screen shot from January 23, 2023 – multiple experimental PIREPs in the vicinity of Will Rogers World Airport, Oklahoma City.

White, a pilot and an aircraft mechanic for over 37 years knows the benefits of such research. "It makes me happy to know that there are people out there like Dr. Kratchounova, who are pushing the limits and are not satisfied with the status quo. Flying in Alaska attracts a certain kind of person. These pilots want results, not bureaucracies, and it is encouraging when their feedback is acknowledged and implemented. They are seeing first-hand, people dedicated to making things work," says White. He goes on to share, "The research that the FAA does is extremely important. It’s important that we push the envelope in this manner; not in a way that affects safety, but in a way that ultimately improves safety."

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