Ineffective decisions behind some weather-related delays: JPDO

Washington DC
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US Joint Planning and Development Office’s (JPDO’s) chief scientist for weather recently chided the FAA for “ineffective weather decision making” at the agency’s Air Traffic Control System Command Centre in Herndon, Virginia.

At that location, the FAA, major airlines, the military and key air traffic control facilities have a teleconference every two hours each day (except for overnight hours) to discuss how to mitigate weather impacts on US domestic airspace.

Decisions can involve ground holds, ground stops and airspace flow programs, which change enroute paths around severe weather or other capacity constraints. Airlines get priority based on their percentage of the scheduled arrivals at affected airports. According to the FAA, weather is a factor in 70% of delays.

Speaking last week at a JPDO weather working group meeting, chief scientist John McCarthy said weather decisions are being made using a hodgepodge of weather products in a process that is often ad hoc. “Many users say the outcome is determined by who is on duty at the command centre,” says McCarthy. “Ineffective weather decision making is unacceptable when weather is a factor in delays.”

He adds that there are “a multitude of inconsistencies” with today’s assortment of severe weather tools, which include “15 different thunderstorm products” at any given time.

McCarthy says the solution is to have a “single authoritative source” (SAS) of weather data and forecasts as well as industry-created decision making tools that will give airlines, the FAA and the military a common operating picture of the current and forecast weather.

By year’s end, the JPDO plans to define the functional requirements of a four dimensional “weather cube” that officials say will provide the SAS’s enhanced weather observations and probabilistic forecasts to all national airspace system (NAS) users starting as early as 2013 in its initial stages.

Probabilistic forecasts, those that define the likelihood of weather conditions at any location, altitude and time as much as 96hr in advance, are critical to the success of the four-dimensional aircraft trajectories planned for the next generation air transportation system.

The “cube” will provide a variety of vetted weather information, including storms, turbulence, icing, winds and wake turbulence, gathered from satellites, radar, aircraft and ground-based monitors.

A network enabled matrix of results, catalogued for any given location and altitude in the US or perhaps globally, will then be used by airlines and the FAA and other airspace users as input to automated decision monitoring tools to help make consistent strategic and tactical routing decisions.