Impact of Adverse Weather on Commercial Helicopter Pilot Decision-Making and Standard Operating Procedures


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 tools for their initial go or no-go decision during the preflight phase, but use fewer tools 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.

Andrew H. Speirs, Coline Ramée, Alexia P. Payan, and Dimitri N. Mavris (2021), “Impact of Adverse Weather on Commercial Helicopter Pilot Decision Making and Standard Operating Procedures,” AIAA Aviation Forum 2021, Virtual, August 6th 2021,