Voice your opinion now to stop the elimination of Area Forecasts
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), in coordination with the National Weather Service (NWS), has submitted a notice to the Federal Register announcing its intent to transition seven Area Forecasts (FAs), used as flight planning and pilot weather briefing aids to digital and graphical “alternatives”. Existing potential alternatives identified in the recommendation include surface weather analysis and prognostic charts, public forecast discussions, Significant Weather charts, National Digital Forecast Database, Terminal Aerodrome Forecasts (TAFs), and Airmen’s Meteorological Information. It’s worth noting that the proper use of the suggested alternatives is not yet available.
The FA is an abbreviated, plain-language forecast of specified weather phenomena, covering a geographical area designated by the FAA and produced by NWS. The FA is used to determine en-route weather and to estimate conditions at airports that do not have a Terminal Aerodrome Forecast (TAF) which are, in fact, most airports. The limited availability of TAFs makes the FA vital to those airports utilized heavily by general aviation aircraft.
While it’s safe to assume that pilots already use many of these suggested alternatives during normal flight planning, there is critically important information contained in FAs not readily available in suggested alternative reports. FAs continue to serve an important role in gathering complete weather information for a specific route of flight especially for general aviation pilots.
The value of area forecasts is when used in conjunction with a number of the suggested alternative weather reports and vice versa. The critical importance of FAs is in the necessity to interpolate conditions at airports which do not have a TAF. In addition to TAFs being issued at relatively few airport locations as mentioned above, TAFs only include weather conditions expected to exist within five statute miles of the center of the airport’s runway complex.
The limited area serviced by TAFs represents only about 1.5% of the contiguous United States based on the current number of TAF sites. Further, TAFs tend to be issued at major airports with air carrier service and therefore, the general aviation community must rely heavily on FAs for interpolating conditions at airports not served with a TAF and for complying with regulations related to flight under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR).
FAR 91.169 – alternate airport requirements for IFR flights – specifically requires an alternate airport be filed when certain weather conditions are forecast to exist at the airport of intended landing. Further, FAR 91.169(c) requires certain weather conditions be forecast to exist at the chosen alternate airport to conduct an IFR flight. Without the existence of an FA, compliance with FAR 91.169, as well as the fuel requirements for IFR flight contained in FAR 91.167, would conceivably be impossible if operating to any airport not served by a TAF.
Area Forecast content remains critical in building a complete weather picture. The FA Synopsis section may make references to low ceilings and/or visibilities, strong winds, or any other phenomena that the forecaster considers useful. The VFR Clouds/Weather section may contain elements on sky condition to include coverage, cloud bases and cloud tops. Cloud top information would not be available in any other resource with the exception of Pilot Reports which remain scarce among the general aviation community. Categorical outlooks continue to provide clear guidance on expected conditions and any phenomena that would result in MVFR or IFR conditions for en route weather and all airports not served by TAFs.
While suggested alternative weather products may provide similar information as contained in an Area Forecast, an equivalent level of information is not available in all cases. This information remains critical to flight safety and in particular, to pilots operating at airports not served by TAFs. Until an equivalent and readily accessible level of information is available, Area Forecasts should continue to be issued for the existing seven forecast locations.
Please provide comments by August 4, 2014 to:
National Weather Service
1325 East West Highway, Room 13342
Silver Spring, Maryland 20910
Michael Pat Murphy
Warning Coordination Meteorologist
Aviation Weather Center
7220 NW 101st Terrace, Room 101
Kansas City MO 64153