Weather data provider hones its service menuMeteorlogix targets bizav with mix of ground-based, airborne services
Weather data specialist Meteorlogix is stepping up efforts to get its line of aviation-related products out in front of corporate pilots. As the biggest provider of weather services to the airlines, the company already has a foothold in aviation, yet it admits that its name is not as well known in business aviation circles as that of its nearest competitor, WSI of Andover, Mass.
Part of the reason has to do with the fact that the Meteorlogix name is relatively new, having been created in October 2001 in the merger of weather service companies Kavouras, based in Minneapolis; DTN Weather Service in Omaha, Neb.; and Weather Services Corp. in Lexington, Mass. The company still maintains separate offices in each of these locations, with about 250 employees spread among the three. In all, its customer list includes some 20,000 commercial users. About 20 percent of Meteorlogix’ annual revenue comes from aviation markets, and an increasing portion of this sum includes FBOs and multi-airplane corporate flight departments.
Meteorlogix has been successful in getting its products into some corporate flight departments and smaller FBOs, but the company has its sights set on a bigger prize, namely by gaining market share controlled by WSI, whose satellite-based weather kiosks are a familiar site at FBOs across the U.S.
To compete more effectively in the market for corporate aviation users, Meteorlogix has started aggressively promoting its MxVision AviationSentry preflight weather display system. The service provides weather data through a satellite feed and includes regional and local radar, national and international weather satellites and forecast maps. It displays all this information in a graphical and text format on a dedicated PC.
“We have a customer advisory board at NBAA and HAI and had customers tell us what they wanted in services and features,” said Jim Alviani, director of aviation markets for Meteorlogix. “That is what we went out and created, and it is being received very well by pilots and other aviation professionals.”
Although still relatively new, AviationSentry has already found a home with a number of business jet and helicopter operators, Alviani said. US Airways is also a customer, and Corporate Jets of Pittsburgh recently started using the system at its bases across the U.S.
The strongest selling point of AviationSentry is its user-friendly interface, Alviani explained. The system lets pilots draw their routes by dragging a cursor across the screen. The software automatically collects the information the pilot needs, including cloud tops, winds aloft, turbulence, airmets, sigmets and convective sigmets and can segment it on user-defined pages. Pilots can also click on a specific storm to find out about hail size and tornado potential, or track a storm to find out where it is predicted to be in, say, the next hour. Also available are aviation text reports (Metars, TAFs, notams and so on), which are provided by typing in the airport identifier.
Once the route has been determined, the flight plan can be filed online. The system also includes links to FlightBrief.com, AOPA.org and Universal Weather and Aviation.
Meteorlogix is the exclusive weather provider to AOPA and its members through the association’s Web site. Alviani said the company is in the process of obtaining qualified Internet communications provider (QICP) status from the FAA, which will allow its online weather briefings to be used by pilots for preflight planning.
Two service levels are available. Level one provides domestic U.S. weather data up to 18,000 feet for $100 per month. Level two provides international weather data up to 45,000 feet for $150 per month. With a one-year MxVision AviationSentry subscription, Meteorlogix provides a satellite receiver and dish and a 12-month service contract. The customer can choose to provide a dedicated personal computer with at least 256 MB of RAM and a 900-MHz Pentium III or faster processor or, through vendor Dell, Meteorlogix will lease a PC. Technical support is available 24/7.
AviationSentry’s en route flight planning feature allows pilots access to everything they need to know before takeoff, and to originate flight plans using a mouse, explained Alviani. He said FBOs equipped with the company’s weather stations can provide pilots with interactive, en route flight-planning capabilities and software that automatically collects data needed to help ensure a safe flight. For example, they have the option of displaying flight-level winds and echo tops on regional and national radar, which helps in avoiding thunderstorms containing hail and high winds.
During a demonstration of the system, Alviani showed off one of AviationSentry’s more advanced capabilities. Called SmartWeather, the feature can tell pilots whether they have time to take off or if they should wait out a storm. Incorporated into all three of Meteorlogix’ aviation weather products, the Smart Weather function keeps
tabs on specific user-selected areas, calculates approaching inclement weather start and end times and alerts the user, whether on a cockpit MFD, cellphone, laptop, personal digital assistant (PDA) or other devices that accept text messaging.
“This is a useful service not just for pilots, but also for passengers who want to know whether it will be raining when they land,” Alviani said. “FBO managers and dispatchers use it, too. The great thing about the service is that you can be out on an FBO ramp and it can be preprogrammed to ring your cellphone at predetermined time intervals before a storm is forecast to hit. So, for example, you could set it up to call you, or page you, 20 minutes before a thunderstorm is predicted to reach your location.”
The SmartWeather feature is a key component of MxVision Aviation- Sentry Online, which the company introduced last year as an Internet-based version of the preflight weather system used at FBOs, corporate flight departments and large-scale helicopter operations around the U.S. Billed as the company’s “on the road” preflight weather briefing service, MxVision AviationSentry Online allows users to customize the interface, placing the weather charts most often used under one button, and enter airport, route and aircraft information for personalized weather tracking. A Weather Information Notification System (WINS) uses the Smart-Weather capability to monitor a location within one mile of a specific latitude/longitude and send alerts of inclement weather.
Meteorlogix has also partnered with ControlVision, EchoFlight/ Garmin and Arinc to provide real-time weather in the cockpit.
MxVision AviationSentry Cockpit uses the SmartWeather capability to alert the pilot of weather at departure and destination airports and on the route of flight.
Control Vision uses AviationWatch in its popular PDA-based AnywhereWx product targeted at general aviation pilots. With AnywhereWx, Meteorlogix’ real-time Smart Weather information is integrated into a moving map navigational system on the PDA’s screen. The information is uplinked through a Globalstar satellite phone connection for display on a PDA in the cockpit.
Echo Flight also uses AviationWatch to provide in-flight weather information to the cockpit via the Orbcomm Satellite system. Weather graphics and text are displayed on Echo Flight’s portable multi-function displays, which can interface with all Garmin GNS-series panel-mount multifunction displays through a Garmin datalink radio.
Arinc Direct, Arinc’s business aviation division, partners with Meteorlogix to provide AviationWatch to commercial and corporate aviators. Both data and voice messages can be transmitted to the cockpit via Arinc’s airborne communications network for presentation on many of the most popular MFDs flying in corporate aircraft.
Finally, Sagem Avionics (formerly Arnav) provides an AviationWatch solution using its WxLink system. Aimed at general aviation pilots, WxLink is a bidirectional in-cockpit data system that uplinks real-time Smart Weather information to the aircraft via the company’s aeronautical radio network of ground stations.