Impact of Adverse Weather on Commercial Helicopter Pilot Decision-Making and Standard Operating Procedures
Speirs, Andrew H.
Payan, Alexia P.
Mavris, Dimitri N.
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Helicopter pilots face unique challenges with regard to adverse weather when compared to fixed-wing pilots. Rotorcraft typically operate at lower altitudes in off-field areas that are not always well covered by weather reporting stations. Although recent technological advances have increased the amount of weather data that pilots can access in the cockpit, weather remains a factor in 28% of fatal helicopter accidents. In this work, commercial helicopter pilots were surveyed and interviewed to better understand how they gather and process weather information, what the perceived limitations of current weather tools are, and how their decision-making process is affected by the information they gather and/or receive. Pilots were found to use a wide variety of weather sources for their initial go or no-go decision during the preflight phase, but use fewer weather sources in the cockpit while in-flight. Pilots highlighted the sparsity and sometimes inaccuracy of the weather information available to them in their prototypical operational domain. To compensate, they are forced to rely on local and experiential weather knowledge to supplement weather reports while still working to mitigate other external pressures. Based on the literature and on results from this work, recommendations are made to address the weather-related gaps faced by the rotorcraft community. This includes the installation of additional weather reporting stations outside of airports and densely populated areas, the further promotion of the HEMS tool to helicopter pilots in all industries, the development of weather tools capable of visualizing light precipitation such as fog, and the development of in-flight graphical displays that can help reduce the cognitive workload of interpreting weather information.