The closing of lighthouse stations by the Canadian Coast Guard has reduced the weather information available to pilots flying on the west coast of British Columbia. Lighthouse keepers aren't accredited aviation weather observers, but the information they provide is essential for west coast VFR pilots since it is the only local weather information available. The Pacific coast is a unique operating environment where the weather conditions change quickly and vary dramatically over short distances due to localized weather phenomena.
Aviation weather reporting was thought to be inadequate even prior to the decommissioning of lighthouses. Weather information is perceived to be geared to IFR aircraft and not appropriate for VFR operations since the information is often not valid within a few miles of the reporting source. VFR pilots on the west coast need to know weather conditions at and below 1000 feet ASL.
Comments were received that weather information from the lighthouse stations, which was issued every three hours, was ignored if it was more than one hour old since pilots are looking for more current observations. Other comments indicated that not all lighthouses were required, only specific ones that are located in areas where there is significant variable weather activity or at other strategic locations.
Marine and aviation weather services appear to be isolated. Better and additional services could be realized if these were amalgamated. Weather information from ships, tugboats, fishing boats and lighthouses should be made available to pilots. Most aircraft are equipped with FM radios and can communicate with fishing boats and other ships.
The operating conditions on the west coast require VFR pilots to push into, through or above fog and cloud. The Task Force was told that if pilots don't operate in these conditions, the companies can't survive because these are typical coastal weather conditions. It has become an acceptable (to industry), though illegal, way of operating. Providing pilots with better weather reporting will enhance their decision making as far as choosing a route to fly or areas to avoid, but it will not stop them from continuing to fly into deteriorating weather conditions. It is important to note that in recent weather-related accidents that have occurred on the west coast and elsewhere, the pilots were flying in weather conditions less than the minimum allowed by regulation.
The British Columbia Air Operators Group is a subcommittee of the British Columbia Aviation Council. NAV CANADA has been involved in discussions with this group in an attempt to resolve the weather service issue, by determining user requirements and meeting those demands. Transport Canada should ascertain the progress of solutions to this problem and determine what effect the loss of weather reporting services has had and will have on aviation safety.
SR 69 - Recommend Transport Canada consult with the British Columbia Air Operators Group and NAV CANADA to determine what is being done to improve the weather reporting services on the west coast of British Columbia. A safety review of the issues would be justified if there is no obvious and timely solution to these problems.
The quality of weather information and availability has deteriorated significantly as a result of the closing of FSSs and the loss of Remote Communications Outlets (RCOs). Many of the FSS Specialists who had been working in the same area for many years had insight into local weather phenomena. This local knowledge and insightful weather information has been replaced by an FSS Specialist on a telephone line. Pilots have experienced difficulty in reaching an FSS for weather information or to file a flight plan. The lines are busy and in some cases, the 1-800 number doesn't transfer to another facility to be answered. Additional lines would assist pilots in obtaining timely information or file flight plans. Pilots and dispatchers who need information quickly, such as in the case of a MEDEVAC flight, are finding the service to be inadequate. If pilots and dispatchers could obtain weather information and file flight plans on the Internet, it would reduce congestion on the phone lines. (See SR 70)
SR 70 - Recommend NAV CANADA publish Canadian weather information, notices to airmen (NOTAMS) and provide flight planning capability on the Internet.
Current pilot reports (PIREP) provide other pilots, dispatchers and meteorologists with valuable information about actual weather conditions. This information may not otherwise be available especially in areas where localized weather phenomena occur and there is no weather reporting station in that area. PIREPs also validate forecasts or identify the need for an update. Pilots, especially those flying in areas of variable weather conditions such as coastal and mountainous areas, should be encouraged to file PIREPs to assist other pilots and meteorologists.
SR 71 - Recommend Transport Canada Commercial and Business Aviation and Flight Training Standards inspectors and flight instructors promote the benefits of filing PIREPs and that Transport Canada publish an article in the Aviation Safety Letter and Aviation Safety Vortex newsletters encouraging pilots to file PIREPs.
IA 71 - Recommend pilots file PIREPs especially in areas of variable weather conditions and where weather reporting is less available or reliable.
User dissatisfaction with Automated Weather Observation System (AWOS) is well known and the Task Force received many comments about the inadequacies of AWOS. False reports of low clouds, reports of clear weather when there was reduced visibility (CLR BLO 100), lack of icing or freezing precipitation, missing or late sequences, were among the deficiencies of the AWOS system that were cited. Reliability is a concern and many users do not trust AWOS reports.
The Task Force is not issuing a recommendation concerning AWOS since action to resolve the problems with AWOS is progressing. The Aviation AWOS Performance Evaluation Group (AAPEG) was established in 1995 to "determine the extent to which AWOS meets aviation requirements". The Evaluation Group has completed its review and published its final report in November 1997. It concluded that AWOS performance has markedly improved and recommended that the TC moratorium against the commissioning of further aviation AWOS be lifted. In brief, several recommendations were made for further reserch and development with stakeholder support for further commissioning. It also recommended that a quantitative study be completed to verify the comparative accuracy of aerodrome forecasts (TAF) developed using AWOS observations vs. human observations.
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