We are so grateful to have Dr. Scott Dennstaedt provide his thoughts here on the new FAA Weather Handbook. Scott is a former NWS research meteorologist, a CFI, "double I" and also a PhD in Infrastructures and Environmental Systems. Check out his amazing weather app and writing at EZWXbrief(.com)
It has been years since the FAA embarked on a mission to release a single handbook for aviation weather. Well, the wait is finally over. On December 22, 2022 the FAA published FAA-H-8083-28 Aviation Weather Handbook. It is now available for download from the FAA’s website.
It has been the FAA’s goal to consolidate the weather information from many advisory circulars (AC) into a one-stop shopping experience. This new handbook now incorporates most (if not all) of the technical guidance found in the following ACs:
• AC 00-6, Aviation Weather.
• AC 00-24, Thunderstorms.
• AC 00-30, Clear Air Turbulence Avoidance.
• AC 00-45, Aviation Weather Services.
• AC 00-54, Pilot Wind Shear Guide.
• AC 00-57, Hazardous Mountain Winds.
All the latest versions of these ACs will continue to remain in effect as non-regulatory FAA guidance, but the expectation is that all of them will eventually fall victim to cancellation sometime within this decade. This will mean that the FAA knowledge tests and certification standards for new certificates or ratings will point to this new handbook sometime in the future under the required areas of knowledge as references to these legacy ACs are eventually phased out. But, I’m placing my bet that won’t happen anytime soon.
Now that the new FAA handbook is out, is there anything new to chew on? For all intents and purposes, not really. As someone who has authored two weather books, I’ll be extremely reticent about my own personal feelings. Let’s see how well I do. The FAA clearly took the Aviation Weather Services AC (00-45H, Change 2) and the Aviation Weather AC (00-06B) last updated in 2016 and mashed them together and backfilled with a couple of the other ACs mentioned above. Well, it was more like they very loosely shuffled two decks of cards together to produce the new handbook. Of course, if you haven’t read these ACs in the last 10 years, then you might find some new material in this handbook.
The thing that is most obvious is that the FAA didn’t take the time to make any significant updates to the ACs; they were surgically merged together. For example, Graphical AIRMETs or more simply G-AIRMETs have been the operational product issued by forecasters at the Aviation Weather Center (AWC) when they officially replaced the existing traditional or “legacy” textual AIRMET on March 16, 2010 as I discuss in this FLYING magazine article. This is very important since the legacy AIRMET is being retired in early 2023 as I discussed in this other FLYING magazine article.
The new handbook never mentions the term “G-AIRMET” in the text. Clearly, the handbook attempts to describe the G-AIRMET concept in the text but doesn’t update the terminology that has been in use for over a decade. In fact, you can see in one of the figures in the new handbook shown below, the caption clearly states that this is an AIRMET, but you can see in the upper left, the product itself from aviationweather.gov is labeled as “G-AIRMET.”
This may seem like a minor technicality or nit-picky detail, but while the legacy AIRMET and G-AIRMET are related products (the legacy AIRMET and its outlook are automatically generated from the five G-AIRMET snapshots) they must be interpreted differently. The G-AIRMET is based on five snapshots valid at specific times (coverage of that adverse weather element) and the legacy AIRMET text is a time-smeared forecast valid over six hours with a six hour time-smeared outlook. There are other critical differences as well that are simply overlooked that I cover in the two FLYING magazine articles linked above. It’s as if you were hanging a picture and ask someone to “hand you a hammer” and they handed you a sledge hammer instead of the ball-peen hammer. The correct terminology is important or you end up with a major hole in your wall.
Given that weather is likely the single biggest physical factor affecting your flying activity and is listed as the primary cause of 35% of general aviation accidents, the new handbook is simply too rigid and lacks depth from a practical standpoint. Like many ACs and handbooks, it reads more like a user’s manual rather than a text to learn more about the weather. If you are using it for a reference (e.g., How often are TAFs issued each day?), it’s a great resource for those “trivial” types of knowledge. Certainly, the update of AC 00-6B in 2016 was a significant improvement to its earlier predecessor which was originally issued back in 1977. In that light, this new handbook represents a good resource for CFIs and their students as a study guide to pass the FAA knowledge and practical tests, but you’ll likely need to seek out additional training to learn the practical components of preflight planning as well as inflight strategies that are not typically taught during a pilot’s primary training.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me directly. Also check out The Daily EZ Weather Brief which is live on the EZWxBrief YouTube channel Tuesday through Friday at 7:30 a.m. eastern where I present a 10-15 overview of the weather challenges across the U.S. and southern Canada.
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