Recent Developments in Weather Services to Aviation
Aircraft operations are dependent on the weather. Planning of flight routes and development of infrastructure relies heavily on climate information. 43% of aircraft accidents occur during operations in adverse weather. Three quarters of air traffic delays in high density regions are related to weather. Accurate weather forecasts and warnings are indeed vital for safe and regular air transport, in ever more crowded skies.
WMO works closely with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) representing the airline industry as well as with other stakeholders such as airports, pilots and business aviation to provide the meteorological information needed for safe, efficient and sustainable air travel. National aviation meteorological services deliver crucial information on the observed and predicted conditions at aerodromes, and warnings about critical en-route phenomena in real time.
The Aeronautical Meteorology Programme focuses on aspects of service delivery to all stakeholders, supports WMO Members in developing and implementing Quality Management Systems for aviation services, and is coordinating leading-edge research and development in forecasts and warnings in order to provide real-time guidance for flight operations. WMO assists Members also in training staff to ensure a uniformly high level of aviation services delivery.
With increasing attention to client focus and the evolving user demands for tailored products and value-added services, National Meteorological Services (NMSs) need to continuously improve meteorological services to aviation, upkeeping the safety and efficiency of international air navigation.
Since the 1960s, the international aviation community has been using the Operational Meteorological (OPMET) information provided by NMSs for making operational decisions. OPMET information includes the Meteorological Aerodrome Report and the Terminal Aerodrome Forecast which are coded in the legacy METAR and TAF code formats. The coding was essential in the old days to overcome the then limitations in telecommunications, but has remained so since the users have been well trained to interpret and utilize the information. In the past decade, with the advent of global numerical modelling and satellite communication, products from the World Area Forecast System (WAFS), an ICAO programme developed in close cooperation with WMO, has been providing global upper atmosphere wind conditions, temperatures and weather forecasts for flight planning purpose. In support of these weather forecasts, the WMO Aircraft Meteorological Data Relay (AMDAR) programme, established in 1998, now contributes some 250000 meteorological observations daily from in-flight aircraft – providing a major boost to upper-air atmospheric observational capability.
Today, even though the OPMET and WAFS products are still the standard weather information prescribed for use by international air navigation, there are increasing demands for tailored weather products meeting specific needs of the different users, ranging from airline dispatchers, pilots, and air traffic controllers, to personnel responsible for airport management and air traffic flow management (ATM) which are found to be of increasing importance for dealing with the increasing air traffic. To meet the evolving user’s needs, NMSs have developed new products and value-added services, often beyond the current requirements of international standards, utilizing available technologies such as automatic meteorological observing systems and modern communication means e.g. internet, air-ground data link.
The deployment of the advanced LIght Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) technology for operational airport wind shear alerting is a notable example of an automated observing system providing safety critical information to pilots in real time (Figure 1). The increasing utilization of web-based platforms for the dissemination of weather information enhances the possibility for NMSs to provide more tailored weather products to a larger number of users, at the same or even lower costs. The internet has also become a very useful platform for prototyping and evaluation of new weather product standards (Figure 2).
Looking ahead, to meet the needs to further improve aviation safety and efficiency required by the future ATM systems such as those being developed under the NextGen (Next Generation Air Transport System) and SESAR (Single European Sky ATM Research) activities in the United States of America and in Europe respectively, new terminal forecast (NTF) products (Figure 3) are being collaboratively developed by WMO and ICAO for providing forecasts of weather elements critical to aviation in the terminal area with much finer resolution in space and time compared to the OPMET and WAFS information.
Figure 3. Prototype NTF products under development
Members of the WMO Commission for Aeronautical Meteorology provide more information on this topic in the WMO Bulletin: http://www.wmo.int/pages/publications/bulletin_en/documents/58_2_short_en.pdf
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