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Pilot Decision Making


Lindell Wilson, WVFC CFI

Pilot Decisions - Weather

This time of the year, aviation weather is a major concern. As pilots, we use the fall/winter season to refresh our weather related skills and develop a new understanding of aviation weather. 

The FAA has an excellent publication "General Aviation Pilot's Weather Guide", which uses the "Perceive, Process and Perform" framework to gather, evaluate and take action on aviation weather information during the three phases of flight: Pre-flight, In-flight, and Post-flight.


First, "Perceive" by gathering weather information about the flight from sources such as TV, Internet, Direct User Access Terminal, Flight Service Station, and others. A good strategy is to gather and evaluate weather information starting from a Big Picture summary (ex. TV and internet), then drill-down to the weather details including current and forecast weather for the departure airport, route, and arrival airport.

Second, "Process" the weather information by looking for temperature/wind/pressure/moisture changes and their possible effects on reducing ceiling/visibility, creating turbulence, and reducing aircraft performance.

Third, "Perform" by evaluating Pre-Flight information from Perceive and Process steps, then create plans for Alternates/Escape Options, Fuel requirements (to arrival airport plus alternate plus 30 or 45 minute reserve... I always use one hour), Route for best weather/terrain avoidance, and Passenger plan/contingencies (i.e. brief passengers on weather situation and alternate flight options, ex. wait or drive).


Perceive, by visually looking at the in-flight conditions and compare them (better or worse) to the forecast. Utilize ATIS/AWOS/ASOS/Flight Service for weather updates along your route. Real time in-flight weather events and locations may be available from ATC (as workload permits). In addition, many GA aircraft are now equipped with data links for satellite weather, METARS, TAFS, and NEXRAD radar.

Process, recognize and evaluate the current in-flight weather situation, especially small changes in light/color/motion/temperature/pressure.

Perform, by evaluating real time in-flight weather information, then take appropriate action for un-forecast or deteriorating weather conditions. Ask ATC for help or turn back if necessary!


After each flight is a great time to reflect on the good/bad/ugly (Clint Eastwood style) of the aviation weather and other flight information. Here are some questions to ask...

- Compare the Forecast(s) versus the Actual Weather - Consider ceilings/visibility, turbulence, aircraft performance, fuel burn/availability, temperatures, and winds?

- Which sources of weather information were useful/accurate, which were out-dated / not-relevant?

- Other questions... passenger/pilot issues (food, hydration, rest-stops, nausea, etc.)?

Below is a good Never-Again weather story from a 100 hour pilot. His Dad's words-of-wisdom may have saved the day.

"When Weather Closes In" by Jerry Spiller (AOPA Never Again, March 2005)

"My (Jerry Spiller) particular never-again brought back words of wisdom from my dad: The only thing you can't teach is experience." ....

"I learned much in that short trip. Never trust the weather, and from now on, my wife and I have agreed, no trip anywhere is worth risking that again. If either one of us feels uncomfortable, we turn for clearer skies well before it's too late. A new personal minimum for me: If I can't see the mountaintops, I don't fly near them. No more trusting that the valleys will be clear. I believe I've had a whole career's worth of luck in that one trip and I do not intend to push it again."