Initial Assessment of Portable Weather Presentations for General Aviation Pilots

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Authors: Ulf Ahlstrom
Robert Bastholm
Eamon Caddigan
Matthew Dworsky
Oliver Ohneiser
Kenneth Schulz

Ahlstrom, U., Caddigan, E., Schulz, K., Ohneiser, O., Bastholm, R., & Dworsky, M. (2015). Initial assessment of portable weather presentations for general aviation pilots (DOT/FAA/TC-15/42). Atlantic City International Airport, NJ: Federal Aviation Administration William J. Hughes Technical Center.


Objective: (a) To examine the potential benefits and effect on pilot flying behavior from the use of portable weather presentations and (b) to assess pilot sensitivity to weather symbology changes.

Method: Seventy-three General Aviation (GA) pilots volunteered to participate in the study. During simulated flights, participants were randomly assigned either to an experimental group or to a control group and flew a simulated single-engine GA aircraft under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) while avoiding hazardous weather. The experimental group was equipped with a portable “weather application” during flight. We recorded flight profile parameters, Weather Situation Awareness (WSA), decision-making, cognitive engagement, weather-application interaction, and aircraft distance-to-weather. Using a change-detection experiment, we assessed participants’ sensitivity to symbology changes in portable weather presentations.

Results: We found positive effects from the use of the portable weather application with an increased WSA for the experimental group. This resulted in credibly larger route deviations and credibly greater distances to hazardous weather (≥ 30 dBZ cells) in the experimental group than in the control group. Nevertheless, both groups flew too closely to hazardous weather compared to what is recommended in current Federal Aviation Administration guidelines. We also found a credibly higher cognitive engagement (prefrontal oxygenation levels) for the experimental group, possibly reflecting increased flight planning and decision-making among the participants. Using a change-detection experiment, we assessed participant discriminability of signal and noise trials using cloud ceiling, precipitation, and PIREP information. We found that discrimination performance was low for all conditions in comparison to the performance of a group of ideal observers as measured by the signal detection (SD) metric for discriminability (d).

Conclusion: The study outcome supports our hypothesis that the portable weather application can be used without degrading pilot performance on safety-related flight tasks, actions, and decisions. However, it also shows that an increased WSA does not automatically transfer over to improved flight behavior. The outcome shows that participants could learn and operate the portable weather application with relative ease, but training is necessary to help pilots translate weather information into improved flight-behavior strategies. The outcome from the change-detection experiment shows that work is still needed to optimize the symbology for portable cockpit weather presentations. Applications:This simulation is part of an initial assessment of the effects of portable weather applications on pilot behavior and decision-making.