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