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Pilot Reports (PIREPs) aren't just helpful to ATC, they're great resources for pilots during flight planning. But done wrong, PIREPs can increase a controller's workload and clog up a frequency.
The following is an actual pilot report transcript. Yes, this controller was probably tearing her hair out:
"Washington Center this is NXXXX with a pilot report. I'm a 182RG North of Lynchburg LYH and I'm getting bumped around quite a bit. The dog got thrown up in the air. There's a cloud deck down below us to the East and it looks like there's some rain. When we took off out of Lynchburg it was a little hazy and we were in the clouds around 9,000 feet. Right now there are clouds above us, but it's pretty clear at our altitude. It's also pretty cold up here, I've got some frost on the window."
So what's the big deal? The controller got some good information, right? Well yes, but the pilot didn't use any specific location points, logical order, or standard terminology. This creates a huge problem for the controller, that now needs to attempt inputting this into their computer. Questions like these are longwinded, and will turn into long conversations due to how many follow-up questions the controller will be forced to ask. If you want to put a smile on your controller's face (and be the coolest pilot around the hangar), here are some good tips...
You don't just barge into someone's house without knocking. Treat controllers the same way. So before you radio your ATC controller or flight service station, knock on the door with an opening statement like "Washington Center, NXXXX has a pilot report when you're ready."
After alerting them that you have a pilot report, pause and let controller say they're ready to copy. That's MUCH better than diving straight into your speech, especially in a congested traffic area.
Don't just say you're "North of Lynchburg." Instead, try saying, "We're flying 10 miles North of LYH." Use the navaids around you to give a DME and radial if possible. Specific locations don't just apply to you, give the most accurate descriptions of the weather around you. If there's a storm cell to the East, try estimating a DME from your aircraft or another point.
Sky Conditions: Report the altitudes of cloud bases, tops, or report clear skies. Clouds are measured as few, scattered, broken, or overcast.
Turbulence: Negative, light, moderate, severe, or extreme. Other qualifying descriptions frequently used include: chop, intermittent, continuous, or occasional.
Air Temperatures: Read temperature in Celsius. This should be considered mandatory if you're reporting aircraft icing.
Winds Aloft: Report winds in knots if you're able to estimate or report them from a glass cockpit display. Give a cardinal wind directions like "from the southwest," or say "from 220 degrees."
Icing: Report as trace, light, moderate or severe. Give the type of ice as rime, clear, or mixed. Make sure to report where the icing began and ended if you experienced different conditions during a climb or descent.
Weather: This broad category usually includes inflight visibility and limitations due to precipitation, haze, or clouds. Always give visibilities in whole numbers when able.
Remarks/Other: Have more to say? Are there any special weather conditions? In a pilot report, you can essentially say and report whatever you want. There's a limited amount of space, but this is where you can get specific with the message you'd like to convey. If you experienced windshear for instance, make sure to give accurate measurements of the speed you lost or gained, at what altitude, and for which runway.
For example, this is a great, concise pilot report: "Denver Center, NXXXX is 18 miles east of the Red Table VOR, light rime ice at 17,0000', temperature -14C." With that one simple line, ATC knows where you are, and what you're experiencing. If they need any more info, they'll ask.
PIREPs should be as complete as possible, but don't get overly concerned with strict format or phraseology. The most important thing is that what you're experiencing in the air is relayed, so other pilots can benefit from your information. If a portion of the report needs clarification, the controller will ask you.
Easy enough, right? Other pilots appreciate pilot reports, especially around thunderstorms, turbulence, icing conditions, and windshear.
In fact, there are 7 times when ATC is required to ask you for a pilot report. Generally, hazardous weather is a good time to make a pilot report. And if you want to learn more about PIREPs, check out our Aviation Weather Products course to learn more.
How often do you file pilot reports? What the strangest thing you've heard in a pilot report? Tell us in the comments below.
Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, commercially licensed pilot with multi-engine and instrument ratings, and a commercial aviation student at the University of North Dakota. He's the author of the articles, quizzes and lists you love to read every week. Swayne's experience ranges from international flights in a King Air F90 to ferrying a 1943 Grumman Widgeon across the country. You can reach Swayne at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow his flying adventures at http://www.swaynemartin.com.