Preserving the Human Element in Pilot Weather Reports (PIREPs)
Authors: Daniela Kratchounova, Hannah Baumgartner
Abstract: Pilot reports (PIREPs) are reports describing in-flight weather conditions submitted by pilots, and provide crucial weather information to other pilots for pre-flight and in-flight planning. However, the current PIREP system is antiquated, prone to error, and has been identified as a safety concern according to a 2017 National Transportation Safety Board Special Report. The current paper describes some preliminary results from a proof of concept study investigating the feasibility, utility, and usability of a PIREP submission and retrieval process that uses VHF radio, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. In this concept, pilots were able to submit and retrieve PIREPs without talking to an air traffic controller but by communicating with an automated VHF ground station via a voice-user interface. Pilots were also able to retrieve PIREPs online (website and mobile app), where they could listen to voice recordings of PIREPs or read voice-to-text transcriptions of PIREPs submitted in their local area. Most aircraft today are equipped with a VHF radio, which is the primary communication tool used to file PIREPs via communicating either with a Flight Service or Air Traffic Control facility. The use of a dedicated radio frequency for submitting and retrieving PIREPs has the potential to provide an additional mechanism for pilots to communicate these reports reducing congestion on other FSS and ATC frequencies. For the period of time between November 4, 2022 and April 30, 2023; over 200 pilot-participants who were flying within or overflying the areas with radius of ~ 50 nm from two airports—Will Rogers World Airport (KOKC) in Oklahoma and Nenana Municipal Airport (PANN) in Alaska submitted and retrieved~5,000 PIREPs. Two PIREP ground station identifiers were used for this research: (a) “PIREP Watch Alaska” and (b) “PIREP Watch Oklahoma”. For this initial phase of the research, the system did not have the capability to map ADS-B equipped aircraft to aircraft type, location or altitude without querying the pilot. Pilots identified a number of areas of growth for this concept, such as the need for aviation-specific vocabulary in the voice-to-text transcription aspect of the technology. Overall, pilots were highly enthusiastic about the proof of concept study and supported the feasibility, utility, and usability of this novel method of submitting and retrieving PIREPs. This innovative system preserves the human element in modern weather information sources by allowing pilots to use free form when reporting their direct weather observations in-flight while eliminating the need to talk to an air traffic controller or flight service specialist. Furthermore, it offers data-driven support for modernizing the PIREP system.
Keywords: Pilot Reports (PIREPs), aviation weather, human-system interaction, voice-user interface, usability, utility, feasibility
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