Pressure from the airline industry has prompted the US Federal Aviation Administration to prolong funding for an en route and terminal weather guidance prototype system.

Yesterday’s decision of the FAA’s air traffic organisation follows an agency announcement on February 22 that the Corridor Integrated Weather System (CIWS) would be cancelled from March 1 due to budget cuts. “The FAA weighed all the issues and decided to keep [CIWS] running because of its benefits to the user community,” the agency’s CIWS team leader Ray Moy says.

“[CIWS] is pretty significant for the airline and air-traffic community. We’re still trying to create a business case, but when the budget started getting cut, [CIWS] was considered a prototype and therefore expendable,” says Moy. CIWS, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratories-developed computer program, provides en route and traffic flow managers with 2h, continually updated forecasts which helps airlines and air-traffic control facilities improved guidance of where to route flights during convective weather periods.

The program was initially designed to mitigate convective weather patters deemed partly responsible for the record airline gridlock recorded in 2000. The FAA’s latest decision now provides CIWS with $1.5 million in funding for the remainder of the fiscal year ending 30 September. Moy says the funding will effectively just keep the prototype system running, but not allow for any expanded capabilities.

The CIWS prototype has also been deployed at the FAA Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, as well as eight air route traffic control centers and six terminal radar approach controls. Airline operation centers that currently utilise the CIWS prototype include American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, FedEx, JetBlue Airways, Northwest Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and UPS, says Lincoln Laboratories’ CIWS program director Jim Evans.

At least one airline is looking to pressure legislators to ensure CIWS funding for fiscal 2007 is granted. To date, no funds for CIWS are in the FAA’s fiscal 2007 budget. “Continental hopes the industry will actively pursue funding in [fiscal] 2007 to allow for the continuity of the product and future enhancements,” says the carrier’s senior director of industry affairs for flight operations Glenn Morse. “[Additional] funding could expand the program to other FAA facilities and airlines.”

A full version of this article first appeared on Air Transport Intelligence, an online business intelligence service for the air transport industry with 24 hour news and data available to subscribers.

Source: Flight International