PIREP Feedback Coming In
Vol.9 Issue 2

It’s now been four months into a six-month data collection for the PIREP Proof of Concept Study, conducted by a research team from the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI). The purpose of the study is to examine how combining new and old technologies could modernize the process of submitting and retrieving pilot (weather) reports i.e., PIREPs. The study allows pilots to communicate via VHF radio to a natural language processor and cloud computer to obtain and convey weather information - without speaking with an air traffic controller or flight service specialist. Common complaints when using the existing PIREPs system have indicated that there are not enough reports in the system to acquire weather accuracy, and pilots also reported that many radio frequencies being used are too busy, making it difficult to file a timely weather report.

PIREPs information contains important meteorological data and is imperative for any pilot, helping them to keep abreast of potential hazards, weather forecasts, and in some instances these reports have saved lives.

The area of study involves two locations: pilots flying or overflying the area within a radius of 50 nautical miles of either Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, or Nenana Municipal Airport in Nenana, Alaska.

Since the study began, over 2,500 PIREPs have been submitted/retrieved and nearly 300 pilots have signed up to participate in the study. Each pilot receives compensation for every Pilot Report given and retrieval call made. Researchers are very engaged with the results, and they are able to make real-time changes to the technology when considering potential improvements. For instance, after one suggestion, they wanted to test how the use of the aviation phonetic alphabet could help the system improve the PIREPs placement on the map. In addition, "A lot of the emphasis is now shifting to PIREP retrieval, instead of PIREP reporting, as it was when the study began," shares Dr. Daniela Kratchounova, Principal Investigator. "We are using the participants’ feedback to make improvements to the user/pilot experience during retrieval."

Part of a pilot’s commitment to participating in the study is to provide bi-weekly feedback through an online survey. "The engagement of the participating pilots has been exciting, as we are receiving constant communication from study participants," explains Hannah Baumgartner, Engineering Research Psychologist.

March 1, 2023, snap-shots of the two study areas and the large number of experimental PIREPs posted on the cloud based research platform that the researchers are using to collect data for this project.

March 1, 2023 snap-shots of the two study areas and the large number of experimental PIREPs posted on the cloud based research platform that the researchers are using to collect data for this project.

Here is some of the recent feedback from study participants:
"I like how the system plays back the recording of the pilot’s PIREP. This way, the pilot retrieving the PIREP can hear in the ’first-person’ what the reported weather was, versus an air traffic controller writing it down and explaining it ’second hand’ or ’third hand.’"

"I appreciate hearing the actual recording. So much can be gleaned from the pilot’s voice."

"The graphical interface is excellent. Being able to click on the area where I will be flight planning and listen to the first-hand account is really nice. This could really improve aviation safety with regard to flight planning and weather avoidance. A pilot only gets half of the story by looking at prognostic charts and radar/satellite images prior to flying. This user interface is great if it could be rolled out for everyone to use."

"I really like the system. At first, I was skeptical of its ease of use, but after a few practices with it, I found that it is really easy to give and retrieve PIREPs. It’s often difficult to get in touch with ATC on congested frequencies, especially when the weather is bad, so this would be a perfect way to be able to capture that weather data and provide it to pilots in a way that will not be a burden on busy air traffic controllers. Especially for VFR traffic, a pilot is more likely to call the automated system rather than try to contact an ARTCC center controller for PIREPs."

"I think this concept is definitely practical for integration into the National Airspace System. It is a much-needed addition in my opinion. Air Route Traffic Control Center frequencies can get very congested, especially during periods of bad weather, and the controllers can get very task-saturated during these times. It would help to remove the workload from these center controllers and allow them to focus on aircraft routing and traffic deconfliction, rather than to write down PIREPs and enter them into a system. The user-voice interactions are getting easier to use for me as I learn what order the data is expected in. I think when the system rolls out, a short user guide that could be published (that will walk the pilot through the prompts and what order to expect the system to ask for the data) would be critical to getting buy-in and normalizing the use amongst the pilot population. Many pilots may at first be hesitant to use an automated system, but if they have a clear, step by step quick reference guide and possibly a list of commonly used phrases that the computer is listening for, it would probably make the roll-out go more smoothly."

"The PIREP retrieval is just as important as PIREP submissions in my opinion. This will enable pilots to get weather updates even when the ARTCC frequencies are crowded during periods of marginal weather. It very easy to use and it is a huge plus to be able to hear the audio file from the pilot who is submitting the PIREP firsthand."

PIREP Study Registration QR Code

For those pilots with an interest, there is still time to participate in the study.

To register, visit https://cbtopsatcami.faa.gov

Once registered, pilots are required to listen to a short briefing explaining the project, sign an informed consent document, and answer a brief demographics questionnaire. A unique call sign will be provided for use during the study, and participation in a bi-weekly online survey is required.

Pilot Reports (PIREPs) Proof of Concept Study
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