I haven’t used the textual Area Forecast for flight planning since the early 2000s, aside from showing it to students for training. The same goes for actually phoning a weather briefer. I use the wide array of digital weather resources available to us from both official and unofficial sources for determining conditions for each flight, and I believe that all pilots should be comfortable and capable of determining this from these textual and graphical resources without assistance. Guess what? The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is finally getting rid of the limited-utility Area Forecasts (FA).
The When And Why Of The Removal Of Area Forecasts
A week ago, the FAA announced the phase-out of textual FAs by October 10, 2017 for the contiguous United States.1 They determined that the FAs had the following weaknesses compared to related graphical forecast products, which I wholeheartedly agree with:
- The product is decades old and essentially unchanged in format.
- It has unwieldy geographical coverage.
- Strict character limitation (legacy teletype requirement).
- Prohibition on describing IFR conditions (reserved for SIGMETs and AIRMETs).
- Update rates significantly less than other, more-modern products and services (only three times a day).
- The National Weather Service (NWS) today provides equivalent (or better) information through a number of alternative products.
The primary weakness I see is that the FA covers such a wide area (six regions in the US) that determining the weather along a flight route from just this information is almost a hopeless endeavor, especially for us helicopter pilots, as our flights typically aren’t multiple-states in length. It is way more accurate to check the frequently-updated Aviation Routine Weather Reports (METARs) and Terminal Area Forecasts (TAFs) along our route, and look at the graphical weather depiction products to make a go/no-go determination.
Graphical tools available to make viewing this information easier include Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) Tool, and apps like ForeFlight. The FAA understands this as well, and to help with the transition is pointing users to the Graphical Forecasts for Aviation (GFA) Tool, which provides similar capabilities to the aforementioned tools.
Be familiar with all information concerning each flight,