XM Radio’s wx service hits all the right notes

 - February 5, 2007, 5:33 AM

Datalink weather may be nothing new, but many believe it is much improved thanks to subscription-based services from XM Satellite Radio that are taking the aviation world by storm.

The satellite radio provider introduced its weather lineup two years ago after realizing that it could leverage the excess bandwidth not being used for its network of 100-plus audio channels to deliver content to customers other than its three-million-strong radio listening audience.

XM Radio in spring 2003 teamed with data provider WxWorx, whose storm-cell identification and tracking technology and Nexrad radar images were already being provided to hundreds of TV stations across the U.S.

It didn’t take long for aviation users and avionics makers to take notice of the new XM service, which promised to deliver a stream of weather content to aircraft operating over the continental U.S. for a monthly fee of $29 or $49, depending on desired features.

Garmin was first to launch the service, beginning with its marine products and then expanding into aviation with an optional package for the G1000 integrated cockpit. Next Rockwell Collins announced that it would offer the XM WX service as an option in its Pro Line 21 avionics system, starting with the Citation CJ3.

Collins selected Heads Up Technologies to supply the XM receiver, and others soon followed. A maker of digital audio and integrated systems, Heads Up is also offering the service through its XM audio/data receiver platform, designed for integration with a number of aviation display systems, including electronic flight bags (EFBs) from navAero and Flight Deck Resources, and on a number of popular MFDs.

Avidyne, for one, recently announced the selection of XM WX Satellite Weather to provide broadcast datalink weather for its FlightMax EX500 multifunction displays, as well as for the FlightMax Entegra integrated avionics systems. Avidyne’s version of the XM service uses the Heads Up Technologies XMD-076 XM receiver.

And XM weather isn’t just for cockpit displays and EFBs. Services are also available for personal digital assistants and Pocket PCs from providers AnywhereWX, Teletype GPS and NavAir.

The XM WX service allows a constant stream of real-time graphical weather information to be overlaid on a cockpit display. The data includes Nexrad radar images updated every five minutes, graphical at-altitude wind speed and direction as well as METARs, TAFs and an array of other information.

Two versions of the service are offered–Aviator and Aviator LT. The latter is the “light” version, which costs $29 per month and includes Nexrad images, TFRs, METARs and TAFs. The full $49 per month Aviator version includes the features of Aviator LT in addition to airmets, sigmets, echo tops, severe weather storm tracks, surface-analysis maps, lightning data, winds aloft and satellite mosaics.

So how did a fledgling satellite radio company become involved with in-flight delivery of aviation weather data? The fact that a number of XM senior executives are weekend pilots certainly had something to with it, but the real reason has more to do with technological serendipity.

To broadcast its line of aviation weather services, XM teamed with WxWorx, a company that provides data feeds to TV stations across the U.S. The aviation version of the WxWorx feed is delivered by XM’s two geostationary satellites, one positioned over the eastern U.S. called Rock and the other over the western part of the country named Roll. Once the receiver equipment had been developed, all that was left to make the service a success was to turn on the feed and start transmitting data.
More information on the range of XM hardware options is available at www.xm radio.com/weather.