FAA Calls for New Presentation of Weather Info

 - May 1, 2008, 12:13 PM

The FAA has criticized the airlines for failing to equip their aircraft with the latest on-board weather technology, thereby limiting the amount of relevant data pilots receive. The agency commended general aviation, however, for embracing new technologies that will be an integral part of the NextGen air transportation system.

“It is essential that flight crewmembers receive timely, accurate and easily understood weather information,” said Nick Sabatini, the FAA’s associate administrator for aviation safety, at the recent NextGen Conference on Integrating Weather, Airports and Air Navigation Services. “Yet today, many air carrier pilots…must interpret weather information from a verbal description given by the dispatcher or from pilot reports.

“At the same time, many in the general aviation community have a range of weather information options that show the same Nexrad radar displays used
by NOAA and NWS personnel.”

The airlines have equipped some cockpits with “rudimentary character graphic maps,” Sabatini said, but “words are all that is available in far too many Part 121 flight decks.”

James May, president and CEO of the Air Transport Association, said the airlines shouldn’t wait for the FAA to implement NextGen. “We have to apply the  knowledge we have to practical application now,” he said.

The integration of new technology in airplane flight decks shouldn’t be viewed as the only way to improve safety and reduce weather delays, however. Pilots also have to receive better weather training, according to Phil Boyer, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

The industry also needs to better manage the dissemination of weather information, according to Mark Andrews, co-chair of the Joint Planning and Development Office Weather Working Group. The perfect forecast system, he said, would involve flawless coordination among forecasters, pilots, dispatchers, operations staff and ground handlers.

The only way to improve the dissemination of information, however, is through the use of new technologies, according to Ken Leonard, chief of the FAA weather planning and requirements group. “Integration is the key, but we have to get the right dissemination capabilities in the cockpit and we have to feed that information to everyone in the system.

“We have the capability,” he added. “We’re just missing the connectivity. And we will not be able to achieve the NextGen vision if we do not incorporate weather.”