An enhanced weather briefing and reporting tool for general aviation (GA) pilots is to be demonstrated to US flight schools and fixed base operators in California, Iowa and Maryland.

The Advanced Weather and Reporting Enhancements (AWARE) tool is being developed by the Rockwell Science Centre, Rockwell Collins and the University of California, Irvine, under a $2.6 million contract from NASA.

It is part of NASA's aviation weather information programme, set up in 1997 to improve safety and reduce the number of weather-related accidents.

Work on AWARE began in September last year, and kicked off in earnest after a formal contract was issued on 19 October last year.

"The purpose is to take text-based data and graphical weather data and provide superior situational awareness to pilots," says Rockwell Science Center senior scientist Corinne Ruokangas. "We're basically trying to present better weather information."

The programme was prompted by the number of US weather-related GA incidents. Between 1988 and 1992, 31% of all GA accidents were caused by weather - about 1.5 per 100,000 flight hours. Raw weather data is available, says Ruokangas, but it is the presentation to pilots that is lacking.

A key element of the work is boiling down the data into something more usable and easily understood. "They [the pilots] don't really need to know the specifics of winds aloft, and so on," says Ruokangas. "As a general aviation pilot, you just need to know if you'd be able to complete your mission safely," she says. The demonstrations, to be available in preflight briefings on a Web-based system, will "start to show everyone what is relevant".

The four-year effort is aimed at installing a user interface in the cockpit, as well as in pre-flight briefing rooms on the ground. The system takes data via the Internet from traditional weather sources and feeds it to a database server.

The information is collated into a weather event database, available to pilots via a query formulator and a decision support system. Data presentation is expected to be in a simpler, easier-to-understand, graphical format.

Source: Flight International