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EZTip No. 38 - How to file a pilot weather report online

As a general aviation pilot, one of the most cumbersome things to do while in flight is to file a pilot weather report more commonly known as a PIREP. This has created the unfortunate situation on any given day 98-percent of the PIREPs in the “system” are typically describing weather conditions at or above 18,000 feet. It wasn’t all that long ago that the Enroute Flight Advisory Service (EFAS) was available primarily for pilots to get weather updates while they were flying to their destination. More importantly, EFAS was the main outlet to file a PIREP such that it was guaranteed to get into the system and become available for other pilots to see. This service was also called Flight Watch.


Given that EFAS was organized by Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCCs), you simply dialed 122.0 MHz into your radio, keyed the mic and referenced them by the particular center’s airspace you were located within. For example, if you were in the Jacksonville Center’s airspace, your initial call might have been, “Jacksonville Flight Watch, Skyhawk One Two Three Whiskey X-ray, 30 miles southwest of the Brunswick V-O-R at five thousand five hundred, over.” Then as long as you were more than 5,000 feet above the ground, someone from Flight Watch came on the frequency and you engaged in a two-way conversation to file your PIREP.


However, EFAS was terminated on October 1, 2015. This now leaves the arduous task of finding the right Flight Service Station (FSS) frequency hoping someone on the other end responds to your call. The frequency you use to transmit and receive is dependent on your location. So, you pull out your paper VFR sectional (or electronic version), find the nearest VOR to your location, and look for the frequency located on the top of the VOR information box. Of course, the correct frequency to use may be available through your avionics or through one of the many heavyweight electronic flight bag apps. 


This is the frequency you will use to transmit and receive. Below the box is the name of the particular FSS to use in your initial call. For example, if you are near the Brunswick VORTAC, your initial call may be, “Macon Radio, Skyhawk One Two Three Whiskey X-ray, transmitting and receiving on 122.2, over.” This is the easy case. If there’s an “R” shown at the end of the frequency (e.g., 122.1R), then that means FSS will receive on this frequency (you will transmit on this frequency) and you’ll need to be sure you listen for their response over the VOR frequency (make sure your volume is turned up and not muted on your VOR radio).    



Of course, this can get even trickier. If you see two frequencies listed above the VOR box where one has an “R” shown at the end of the frequency and the other frequency listed does not, this means that if you are below 5,000 feet, you may not have the ability to have two-way comms on the frequency that’s listed without the “R.” Below 5,000 feet you will need to revert to the split-radio procedures mentioned above where you will transmit on the frequency listed with the “R” and listen over the VOR frequency.  


As you can see, filing a PIREP nowadays has a fair amount of complexity. Yes, time permitting you can pass your report along to an air traffic controller, but there’s no guarantee it’ll get in the system so that other pilots and stakeholders in aviation will see it. The controller’s primary job is to separate aircraft, not take your pilot weather report and pass it along to FSS.   


If you are flying under instrument flight rules (IFR) or flying in busy terminal airspace, this can make it even tougher to file a report. If you are talking to a controller you need to ask permission to leave the frequency and hope that you can file a report in a timely manner. If there’s some significant weather in the area, you might get a response from FSS something like, “Skyhawk One Two Whiskey X-ray, standby, you are number four.”  


What if you could file your report online in the comfort (or discomfort) of your cockpit? Well, the good news is that you actually have a couple of options. The bad news is that you will need a WiFi or cellular service available in the cockpit that is still fairly expensive. If you have the money for the equipment and the exorbitant monthly or annual fees for such a service, then you are golden. Otherwise, you are just crossing your fingers that you can pick up cell service from the air. 


Once you have a connection, there is one such portal on the Aviation Weather Center website at aviationweather.gov. Just be aware that for validation purposes you have to create an account and then contact them directly to provide your name, airman’s certificate number and specific affiliation (e.g., airline, flight school, government, military, etc.). Once this validation is complete, you can sign in and file a report using their portal when you have viable connectivity.


As you might imagine, there’s also an app for that! My favorite is called Virga. Before you depart, download the Virga app (search for “Fly Virga” in the App Store or Google Play Store). This is a great option since it is fully integrated with the aviationweawther.gov PIREP portal, but you don’t need to go through the validation mentioned above. You simply need a Virga account. The good folks at Virga are strong believers that the more PIREPs that are shared, the safer aviation is for everyone. And you can also take a picture and file this with your report! How cool is that? Of course, the picture only shows up for other Virga users.



Given that most of us are not willing to shell out money for the equipment and the monthly service fees, when designing Virga, they implemented some unique features to help alleviate the issue of intermittent connectivity in-flight. First and foremost, it is critical to have the right time on the report. Therefore, when a PIREP is submitted, it explicitly tags the "observed time”, not the "transmitted time.” As Internet connectivity is established with the app and the PIREP is transmitted, the observed time is what drives the report.


Second, in order to be compliant with FAA and FCC regulations the pilot-in-command (PIC) must initiate the submission of the PIREP via the app. If there is no service when this initiation takes place, the app will prompt the user to resubmit when connectivity is re-established. Again, the observed time is used and not the transmitted time.


Third, the submission algorithm will also prioritize text over pictures in low bandwidth environments, so that the critical aspects of the PIREP can get submitted first with optimized photographic information following as a second priority. Every now and then you’ll see a PIREP on Virga where the picture will be blank and read “submitted with minimal bandwidth.”  That is an example of where the app prioritized text over photos.



At its core, Virga was designed and built to help solve the issue that most of the PIREPs are in the flight levels. While those PIREPs are definitely valuable to the safety of the flying public, they do very little to help the average general aviation pilot and their passengers stay safe. Their focus from the start was to build a tool that helps enhance the safety of general aviation. The best part is that there’s no charge to use the Virga app since it was their mission to do what they can to enhance the safety of flight for general aviation pilots.


Lastly, every PIREP in the system that has been submitted through traditional methods are pulled into Virga and displayed accordingly within the app. This is the reason you may see PIREPs in the Virga app that don’t have pictures associated with them. Visit https://www.flyvirga.com for more information.


Most pilots are weatherwise, but some are otherwise


Dr. Scott Dennstaedt

Weather Systems Engineer

Founder, EZWxBrief

CFI & former NWS meteorologist

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Thank you for sharing this information. I will share it with my classes.

Veronica 😀

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