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The Aeronautical Meteorology Programme fulfils one of the major purposes of WMO, namely "to further the application of meteorology to aviation" by providing the aviation community with operational meteorological information required for a safe, regular and efficient air navigation as well as for non-real-time activities of the aviation industry. The main long-term objective of this programme is to ensure the worldwide provision of cost-effective and responsive meteorological services. In order to achieve this objective, WMO maintains close cooperation with its Member National Meteorological Services, and partner organizations – particularly ICAO and IATA.

The driving force behind the programme is the Commission for Aeronautical Meteorology that meets every 4 years. The Commission is supported in its work by three working groups of experts and when required by Ad-Hoc expert groups to address specific issues related to the programme. In cooperation with partner organizations whenever appropriate, the Commission is mainly tasked with the following:

  • Application of meteorology to aviation taking into account relevant developments in science and technology and the study of aeronautical meteorological requirements;

  • International standardization of methods and techniques for the provision of aeronautical meteorological services;

  • Consideration of requirements for basic and climatological data, observations and specialized instruments;

  • Impact of aviation and on the environment and;

  • Training of personnel in aeronautical meteorology.

Some milestones in aeronautical meteorology for the last 50 years

From the early days of aviation, it was realized that meteorological information was vital for the planning and a constant factor for the safe conduct of flights. A milestone was reached in aeronautical meteorology in the early 1950’s with the introduction of numerical weather prediction including the analysis and prediction of broad scale weather phenomena and upper winds particularly useful for aviation. This was followed in the late 1960s by the computer generation of winds and temperature forecasts essential to minimize unnecessary fuel uplift and maximize revenue payload. The advent of the first US TIROS weather satellite in April 1960 was a milestone in the history of meteorology that gave a new dimension to aeronautical meteorology. In parallel with these major advances, improved weather radar systems were increasingly used to the benefit of aviation. Today, Doppler radars contribute to the safety and efficiency of flight operations by enabling weather forecasters to observe the movement of storms and predict their trajectories, detect such hazardous weather as tornadoes, hail, microbursts, wind shifts, gust fronts and precipitation intensity. It is expected that increased availability of high quality and timely automated meteorological reports from aircraft from 3,500 a few years ago to about 50,000 per day now, and the continued installation of automated observing systems at aerodromes will contribute to improved quality of weather forecasts that will subsequently benefit aviation. The global operational use of the standardized aeronautical meteorological codes since 1998 has been a major achievement which is expected to facilitate, among other things, the interpretation of the codes and the flow of meteorological information among various aviation users. Because the quality of service gained through improved knowledge is vital to enhancing aviation safety, the highest priority has been given to training of meteorological personnel. Over the past four years, 23 training events on major aeronautical meteorology topics were conducted

The World Area Forecast System

The tremendous increase in volume and diversity of air transport in the late 1950s and early 1960s, coupled with world-wide deregulation of the airline industry and substantial increase in the costs of fuel in the 1970s, dictated many changes to the way airlines conducted their business. Furthermore, the introduction of wide-bodied aircraft and the centralization and automation of flight operations contributed to the need for addressing these technological and economic challenges. The meteorological needs of aviation in particular could no longer be satisfied by the traditional provision of en-route forecasts from departure points for each individual flight. Planning to address these challenges started in 1974 with the development of an area forecast system. Advances in telecommunication, computer technology and the science of meteorology, and in particular, improvement in numerical weather prediction models underpinned the establishment of the WAFS. In 1984 the World Area Forecast System (WAFS), initially based on two world area forecast centres (WAFCs), London and Washington, and fifteen regional area forecast centres (RAFCs), started being implemented to provide high quality, timely and high resolutions en-route meteorological forecasts in standardized formats. The ultimate goal was to enable airline operators to directly use the meteorological forecasts generated by the two world area forecast centres for flight planning and flight documentation. However, because of some telecommunication and meteorological difficulties at the early stage of the WAFS, it was decided that the system should be implemented in phases.

The global coverage of WAFS satellite broadcasts became fully operational in 1996 and a large number of WAFS satellite terminals were installed in over 120 countries to access the WAFS data by the end of 1998. As envisaged for the final phase of the WAFS, a phased transfer of responsibility from the fifteen regional area forecast centres to London and Washington started and transition plans were developed for the remaining regional centres. A number of technical and regulatory matters still needed to be addressed. However, for the first time, most countries of the world are already able to timely access and use the same high quality aviation forecasts to suite their specific needs.

Examples of impacts of weather on aviation operations

The economic and financial impacts of weather on the aviation industry are difficult to quantify. The full social and economic impacts of the implementation of the WAFS are still to be fully documented. However, savings in terms of reduced flight delays, flight time and fuel as well as increased safety of flights and comfort of passengers make the WAFS a useful tool welcomed by all the aviation community., Documented impacts in one country indicates that unexpected weather conditions at arrival times can result in a loss of as much as US$ 350,000 US in additional operating costs per day. Moreover, 80% of all delays greater than 15 minutes are reported to be caused by the weather, resulting in an economic loss of US$ 1 billion US per year. Approximately one third of all accidents are weather related while fully 40% of fatal accidents are caused by the weather. Improved availability of high quality basic meteorological data and satellite imagery from the World Weather Watch Global Observing, Telecommunication and Data Processing Systems have largely contributed to improved accuracy and timeliness of operational aeronautical meteorological information.

Current and future activities

One major challenge to the meteorological community is to be able to provide to aviation operators more timely and accurate forecasts and warnings of hazardous weather including thunderstorms, windshear, microbursts at and in the vicinity of aerodromes, as well as icing, turbulence and volcanic ash information at various phases of flights. The progressive global implementation of the new communication, navigation, surveillance and air traffic management system to accommodate the needs of aviation for the 21st century is expected to increase demands for higher standards in weather observing, forecasting and reporting for aviation. In order to address these issues, during the next four years, the Commission for Aeronautical Meteorology has put emphasis on the following activities:

  • Organization of specialized training in aeronautical meteorology;

  • Fostering close contacts and cooperation with the aviation community to respond to aviation needs;

  • Implementation of the final phase of the WAFS;

  • Updating regulatory and guidance material in coordination with ICAO;

  • Improvements of quality and cost-effectiveness of observations, forecasts and warnings in the terminal area;

  • Improvements of en-route weather hazards, i.e., turbulence, icing, volcanic ash and tropical cyclones;

  • Promotion and coordination of cost-effective global collection and distribution of automated meteorological observations from aircraft;

  • Enhancement of understanding and awareness of the impact of aviation on the environment;

  • Updating regulatory material for the provision of meteorological service to aviation in coordination with ICAO and providing related guidance material to WMO Members.





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