News - October 31, 2019

First Aviation Weather Observer Training Course Launched in US

Crew lifted to wind turbine by helicopter

Following the success of its first U.S. training course for NF-OBS (non-federal observers) within aviation, StormGeo is now providing classroom-based training in the U.S.

The course, held in Boothville, Louisiana, at the heliport of global helicopter operators PHI, is the first of its kind in the U.S. It was originally developed by StormGeo’s Aberdeen team, led by Aviation Services Manager, Maria Pedrosa, in collaboration with PHI.

StormGeo has trained over 30 airports and are now providing the majority of observer training in the U.K., all of which is Civil Aviation Authority approved. 

Helicoper over oil rig

Filling a Gap in the Market

“We had been looking for someone to run this training for about ten months and knew StormGeo has offered these courses in the U.K. for the past ten years. No one else is doing this in the U.S., so we approached them to develop a course for us,” says Colleen Ahlers, Manager Communication Systems at PHI.

Ahlers, who helped the Aberdeen team understand U.S. aviation regulations, says, “The company has a strong partnership with StormGeo, going back over a decade in supporting our tropical weather forecasting and support services.”

The National Weather Service, which used to provide weather observer training and certification in the U.S., stopped doing so two years ago, when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) took over certification but not the training.

It is a legal requirement to have certified weather observers to supplement the Automated Weather Observing System that PHI uses. If the system becomes inoperable or loses a sensor, rather than having to stop traffic or operations, weather observers can step in to provide credible and legal weather observations.

"[StormGeo] brought their long-term history and exposure to interpreting the rules and regulations. The end product was more than we could have put together on our own and showed the expertise StormGeo has to bring to the table when it comes to weather."

Turning Around a High Failure Rate

Before the StormGeo course was developed, the only training for the FAA meteorological observer exam was online. PHI believes this was to blame for a high failure rate among candidates.

“We offer an online refresher course for some of our observer courses in the U.K., and we find that it has a lower pass rate. A classroom-based course really allows people to get the help they need and ask questions to ensure they are fully prepared for the exam,” says Pedrosa.

StormGeo Weather Observer Training Course in Aberdeen

StormGeo Weather Observer Training Course in Aberdeen

Ahlers adds that course instructors like Pedrosa talking about their first-hand experiences and the history of observations “really help the information sink in.” Five out of the six participants on the first StormGeo/PHI course achieved the required 80% pass rate. While observers are not allowed to discuss the contents of an FAA observer exam, they were able to say that Pedrosa and her colleagues covered all of the exam content.

“You have to be a specialist in the field to make this work and that’s what StormGeo is,” says Ahlers. “They brought their long-term history and exposure to interpreting the rules and regulations. We relied on their expert knowledge to bring that across. The end product was more than we could have put together on our own and showed the expertise StormGeo has to bring to the table when it comes to weather.”

Expanding into the US

“PHI has a long history of industry firsts, so we are excited that StormGeo has partnered with us for another first in offering this training to U.S. markets,” says Ahlers.

PHI helicoper

According to Pedrosa, developing the course for the U.S. has not been simple. “The coding rules and regulations in the U.S. are very different to those in the U.K., and it was a challenge to distill it all into four-and-a-half days of work,” she explains. Despite these challenges, Pedrosa and her team have successfully finalized the course and are now working to set up times and places to hold it.

“StormGeo worked diligently on developing this course,” says Ahlers. “They were under a time crunch because we desperately needed to get people certified, but they really rose to the occasion to make that happen.”

Following the PHI heliport success, StormGeo has its sights set on the U.S. market. Meteorologist Troy Frame, from StormGeo’s Houston office, will present training that will run throughout 2020. There is no official exam for the course, since it is a preparation for the FAA exam, but there is a mock exam as well as theory and practical exercises to reinforce the rules. StormGeo provides a manual, exercise book and crib cards.