Crickets, Warts and Cow Patties

A pending Canadian Aviator article

You probably thought I would be talking about unique weather lore with this title. Sure, male crickets chirp at different rates according to temperature. Found on the web... “to convert cricket chirps to degrees Celsius, count the number of chirps in 25 seconds, divide by 3 and then add 4 to get the temperature.” But “crickets” also denotes silence or NORDO (No Radio) for us pilots. It’s what I experience from my weather blog, feedback from this column and my requests to update NAV CANADA’s weather website.

About six years ago while researching for my weather book, I approached NAV CANADA regarding their archaic weather website. For years, it’s header broadcasted its emergence in 2006 and revision in 2007. But nothing has been touched since. Truth be told, they recently removed the header stating its birth date maybe because some of us were raising eyebrows. Every tab I examine has gaping holes.  “PIREP not available” is found on the PIREP tab for most regions. Have pilots given up? And why can’t I get a high-resolution surface analysis chart? The same one is available on Environment Canada’s site. And why do I have to type in the four-letter ICAO code for METARS and TAFs when the three letter IATA code would suffice since they don’t supply weather outside the Canadian border? The satellite pictures are poor quality, the weather radar does not supply cloud tops in feet and there are more legal disclaimers than there are weather tabs. It’s probably the same reason why Environment Canada persists in calling it ANAL surface for surface analysis. I know many of you gave up and have moved on to other sites/apps, mostly American. We are losing our Canadian meteorological identity. At one time, 9 out of 10 initial conversations began with the topic of weather and that included pilots. Now when an quiet/awkward moment occurs we all reach for our cell phone. But at least we have the TROWAL (Trough of Warm Air Aloft) to reference an occluded front. That is as Canadian as Tim Hortons. Sorry to come out punching with such a negative overtone. To prove I am not all sour and not just another high time crusty ornery captain, my enRoute magazine column will have an upbeat take on pilot hiring - if there ever was a time to become a pilot, the time is now! Okay, back to my stormy take on weather politics.

Over two years ago, I attended an aviation weather conference in Montreal geared for you, the pilot. This three-day seminar consisted of a room filled with meteorologists, dispatchers, academia and one pilot, moi. There I challenged NAV CANADA’s weather liaison why their weather site has not been updated. His lips moved and all I heard was blah, blah, blah. Funny, I could recruit two young computer whizzes on Friday from any Canadian college or university, feed them pizza, beer and legalized Canadian marijuana and they would have a gleaming weather website by Monday morning.

To fly safe, you must challenge and query on a continual basis. Weather and aviation is dynamic so why aren’t you challenging the norm regarding an updated weather website? Are we Canadian aviators that inert? I give the site D+ for disappointing and a disservice.

But it doesn’t stop there. I have been trying to get Transport Canada to acknowledge my weather book, Canadian Aviation Weather, as a viable alternative to a book written over four decades ago, the Air Command Weather Manual a.k.a the ACWM. Don’t get me wrong, this monochromatic book geared for the military is excellent when it comes to theory, but is defunct of aviation forecasts or how to read a METAR. This weather fossil, albeit well written, is pre-internet, smart phone or lap top. Yes, it’s that old and yet the book is the number one seller for aviation meteorology in Canada.

Because my book is not government published the standing policy is Transport Canada can’t/won’t acknowledge it. It is why most flight schools and colleges are reluctant to take it on because their curriculum is geared to questions and material supplied from the historical ACWM. To paraphrase one Transport Canada employee’s take on things and to offer up an explanation why status quo rules, “My grandfather used to say, don’t touch the cow patty, it will only smell worse.” How is that for mandated safety? He admitted to low staffing levels, but claimed my book is being (might be) tagged in their database as a reference for hundreds of exam questions.

I too worked for the federal government and realize the frustration. Over 30 years ago, I was getting an annual “route check” on the weather desk. The supervisor asked what I would like to see or accomplish as a forecaster. I wanted to close the huge gap between weather and the pilot. Sadly, that bridge has never been built nor is it on the drawing board.

My aviation career is slowly unwinding. I teach and write for that young lad in Prince George, British Columbia learning to fly, or for the mother of three changing careers in Quebec City, Quebec flying a Navajo or for that seasoned helicopter pilot flying out of Churchill, Manitoba. After all, the company I fly for also has meteorological warts. They still reference the METAR and TAF as SA (Surface Actual), FT (Terminal Forecast) and FC (a short Terminal Forecast). The system changed 22 years ago, when I was hired! Yes, I’ve been asking. But every large organization has warts. It’s how my friend described his airline that launches from the heat of Dubai, U.A.E. This A380 skipper nailed it with the wart analogy.

To a quote an instructor, pilot, and mentor for young aspiring pilots, “What underlies this malaise and failure to respond to changing conditions and requirements in aviation?

A kick start and wakeup call is in order…”  As an aviator challenge the norm. Take up the quarrel and poke those cow patties.

Doug Morris is a B787 captain, certified meteorologist and wrote Canadian Aviation Weather.  His latest book, Pilot Weather: From Solo to the Airlines is hot off the press catering to pilots south of the border