It has been said that the only voluntary act in aviation is the decision to take-off. Every action after take-off involves the skillful management of risk, the enjoyment of flight and a continuous stream of decisions that result in a safe landing.
In 1974, NASA created the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) to allow aviation professionals to share experiences in a frank, non-punitive manner. The ASRS structure allows pilots and other aviation professionals to file an anonymous report of an incident, error or occurrence that the contributor feels might be of value to others. These reports are gathered, analyzed and data based by NASA experts and made available to all interested parties as a tool for creating pro-active aviation safety programs. Additionally, NASA distributes an electronic publication, CALLBACK, which contains selected, de-identified, reports on a free subscription basis. In Flight USA is proud to reprint selected reports, exerted from CALLBACK, for our readers to read, study, occasionally laugh at, and always learn from. Visit http://asrs.arc.nasa.gov/ to learn how you can participate in the ASRS program.
Weather and Aeronautical Information Services and Data Link Issues
In cooperation with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) initiated a study of meteorological (MET) and aeronautical information services (AIS) received via data link. The purpose of the study was to analyze information from users of data link technologies as reported in ASRS incident reports. Qualitative assessments of available records provided valuable insight on data link user interface and actual cockpit experiences related to data link weather or AIS information. The preliminary findings in the Study included:
The incident reports within the study group were almost equally divided between air carrier operations and general aviation
The majority of reporters’ comments regarding MET data link usage were positive and indicated that the technology was a valued tool in the mitigation of adverse weather encounters
The problems most often cited in regard to MET data link information were related to the timeliness of the data
The following ASRS report excerpts were taken from the data set that was used for the Meteorological and Aeronautical Information Services Data Link Study.
A Dangerous Dilemma
A PA-32 Pilot experienced hazardous weather conditions after relying upon data link weather for a “real time” picture of enroute conditions.
• While in cruise flight, it became necessary to deviate due to existing and building thunderstorms. ATC had advised me of the largest storm which I had visually… The storm was to the north. I was also using XM downloaded weather for information. When the XM indicated it was safe to turn more northerly, I advised ATC that I was starting my turn and he agreed that the turn looked “good to him.” I went IMC momentarily and when I broke out there was a large buildup at my twelve o’clock position. The main storm was still off to my right. I could see several breaks around the buildup. I requested and was approved for a climb to 10,000 feet in an attempt to remain visual on the buildup. I was unable to do so and encountered IMC. While IMC, I flew into an area of fast building weather that was joining up with the known cell to my right. I advised ATC of my dilemma and he was very surprised to see how quickly the cell was developing. He vectored me through the safest part of it. I was forced to use every method from my training by turning the autopilot off, slowing, and keeping the wings level. At one time with [climb power] I was descending at 1,500 feet per minute. I eventually exited the weather…. ATC advised that the area had completely closed up. Only then did the XM weather update to reflect the actual conditions that existed. The great guy at ATC was almost as nervous as I was. The delay of the update with the speed of the buildup of these air mass thunderstorms resulted in an inaccurate pictorial that I was using to determine my route of flight.
“I Thought I Would Have an Uneventful Arrival”
When fast moving convective activity is present, more than a good preflight briefing and onboard NEXRAD information may be needed to keep up with current conditions. After enduring an unexpected “flight” on the ramp, this M-20 Pilot recognized that a false sense of security was a factor in his not getting real time data from Flight Watch.
• Just prior to departure I received a full VFR weather briefing which contained no SIGMETs. The forecast was VMC for the entire route. Mention was made of some convective activity, but it was not expected to affect my route of flight. Enroute, I had access to XM weather and SkyRadar. One hour prior to my ETA, I noticed a large cell with Level 6 activity within… I made some preliminary plans for an alternate, but as I approached within 20 minutes of my destination, I thought I would have an uneventful arrival. ATIS was reporting winds 280 degrees at 10 knots gusting to 14 knots with a broken ceiling at 5,500 feet. Approach Control and Tower casually mentioned the weather, but there was no sense of urgency concerning the developing situation. On a two mile final, lightning struck the field. As I flared to land, a large microburst was observed on the airport and wind gusted to 40 knots. By this point I landed and started to taxi to the ramp. Rain and wind became torrential and the aircraft started to weather vane on the taxiway. I maintained appropriate control inputs and made it to the ramp where I turned the aircraft into the wind, kept the engine running and maintained full forward yoke and full nose down trim. At times the wind gusted to 55 knots. The NEXRAD display was displaying Level 6 returns over the field. The rainwater on the ramp had whitecaps. Tower did a great job of keeping me informed of wind direction and speed. I “flew” on the ramp for 20 minutes before the winds let up…. I have always considered myself cautious and not a risk taker. I have not hesitated to deviate in the past when weather was dangerous. I am ashamed of my judgment during the conclusion of this flight. There were several factors that led to my decision… I had a false sense of security about the weather that led me to make an inappropriate decision. I could not believe a convective cell could move that fast… I should have been talking to Flight Watch to get real time data about the direction and velocity of the cell.
The ASRS Data Link Study noted that a number of incident reports cited missing, inadequate or late AIS data. This PA-28 Pilot’s experience was an example of how delayed TFR information can “pop up,” after it is too late.
• I departed…and flew direct…on a VFR flight. I thought I was departing just prior to the Presidential TFR, which I believed to be starting in 15 minutes… Unfortunately I was mistaken on the TFR start time either due to a change or an error on my part, but the TFR went into effect two minutes before I departed. I was asked upon landing to call the FAA, which I did…. The AWOS that I checked via phone prior to departure did not have any special NOTAMs for the TFR… In addition, my Garmin 496 must have been delayed with the data feed because I only saw the TFR pop up on my display as I was leaving the TFR.