Prepare for turbulence ahead.
Most of the general aviation pilots involved in a recent study couldn’t identify key weather alerts and advisories.
The 95-question exam from the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University found that instrument-rated commercial pilots — who are qualified beyond minimum flying certificates — scored the highest, but with only an average 65% accuracy rate. Instrument-rated private fliers were second with a 62% score, then regular private aviators with 57% and finally flight students, who scored 48%.
Questions on icing forecasts, turbulence reports and general radar knowledge were part of the study, published Monday in the International Journal of Aerospace Psychology. It noted that the test for prospective pilots — the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration's Knowledge Exam — does not require a passing grade on the weather section in order to pass the whole test.
This is in spite of the fact that the National Transportation Safety Board said in 2014 that "identifying and communicating hazardous weather" is a top safety priority for fliers.
The alarming results are even scarier for those pilots who operate smaller planes, since those vehicles fly at lower altitudes where more weather-related accidents happen, the study said. Smaller aircrafts have higher fatality rates than commercial jets and have little ground support.
According to the study, which involved 204 subjects, the pilots shouldn't be held solely responsible for their poor marks.
"I don't want to blame the pilots for deficiencies in understanding weather information," the study's co-author, Elizabeth Blickensderfer told the Embry-Riddle Newsroom. "We have got to improve how weather information is displayed so that pilots can easily and quickly interpret it. At the same time, of course, we can fine-tune pilot assessments to promote learning and inform training."
The research also pointed out that pilots are sometimes given radar information from the ground that needs to be assessed with consideration that the information is about 15 minutes old.
"If you're flying 120 miles per hour and you don't understand that there's a lag time in ground-based radar data reaching your cockpit," co-author Thomas Guinn said, "that can be deadly."