Partnership works to improve aviation weather data quality

 - May 15, 2008, 8:22 AM

Although the official raison d’etre for the Friends/Partners in Aviation Weather is to coordinate the needs of users and the ability of the National Weather Service (NWS) and the FAA to serve those needs, it could be likened to a nagging spouse.

The diverse group–which includes people involved with general aviation and with the airlines–gets together with high-echelon officials from the NWS and the FAA under the auspices of the NBAA Convention.

“At this meeting, the FAA and the Weather Service tell the industry users–both commercial and general aviation–what they’ve done the previous year and what they plan on doing in the next year,” explained Paul Fiduccia, president of the Small Aircraft Manufacturers Association (SAMA), who serves as chairman of Friends/Partners.

The users then comment on that summary, ask questions and make requests to accelerate things, do something that is not being done or cease doing something that is being done. The NWS, the FAA and the industry take action items to improve the quality of aviation weather.

“Most of the action items seem to fall on the FAA, with a lesser number on the Weather Service and a still lesser number on the industry,” Fiduccia said. “But that’s probably as it should be. We’re really there to guide our government people in the duties they perform in aviation weather.”

The annual session is organized to discuss all of the links in the chain of providing weather information. In New Orleans in December, the first panel was devoted to sensing–such as ASOS or Metars–and gathering the weather data. The next panel addressed assimilation of modeling, which takes the data and puts it into a useful model.

The following discussion was on product generation, where the model is used to generate a weather product, such as a graphic or a text product–a forecast that pilots can use. That is followed by methods of dissemination, on the ground for preflight planning and how it gets to users in the air. There is also a regulatory component.

“So we address–in order–all of the major links in the chain that provide weather decision support information to the users–pilots, dispatchers and controllers,” said Fiduccia. The industry group includes several major airlines, the Air Transport Association (ATA), general aviation associations such as NBAA, AOPA and SAMA, the FSS briefers and their union and the air traffic controllers.

Although the Friends/Partners in Aviation Weather meets only once a year at the NBAA Convention, Fiduccia pointed out that the airlines that are part of the group are essentially the same as those on the ATA’s meteorological committee, which met with NWS in late January. He added that GA interests will have a similar meeting with the Weather Service later in the year.

All Together Now

Fiduccia said, however, that the annual meeting is “the only time of the year when both GA and the airlines, the controllers union and the [FSS] briefers’ union–all of the users–are sitting there on one side of the table and we’ve got all of the providers, including the private-sector providers, on the other side.”

According to Fiduccia, the format of the meeting is extremely unusual in that problems on either side–government or users–are turned into action items. For instance, the NWS asked the industry to prioritize what products it wanted because it did not have the resources to work on new requests for weather products and keep working on old requests at the same time.

“Hey, you guys want all this new stuff; we can’t keep on giving you the old stuff if we are also going to give you all this new stuff–we don’t have enough money to do both,” he quoted NWS as saying. “So what of the old stuff don’t you want?” That was one action item to which the industry must respond, he said.

Another unique aspect of the friends and partners organization is that problems on either side–government or industry–are turned into action items, and someone volunteers to do it. “Everybody involved in doing weather is there,” said Fiduccia. “The meeting is attended by very senior people.”

In such a public forum, with the people who are in a position to commit their offices and organizations to accomplish certain projects, it becomes exceedingly difficult for them to refuse to do something that appears reasonable. And the group has a way to keep track of what various entities are supposed to do.

“It makes it much more likely that things happen,” Fiduccia observed. “The Weather Service has to produce a product, the FAA has to write guidance material and operational approvals for it and the industry has to go and spend money to have people train to use it. If any one of those three things doesn’t happen, nothing happens.”

Working Toward Same Goal

The Friends/Partners meeting is a forum where all three of those parties can agree to do all of the things that are necessary to make it a success.

Previously, the group put a priority on the new Collaborative Convective Forecast Product (CCFP), developed by the NWS Aviation Weather Center in Kansas City, Mo., airline meteorologists and the FAA to provide extended weather outlooks of up to six hours. In use for nearly two years, it helps flight planners route airplanes around thunderstorms.

Friends/Partners also strongly backed the National Convective Weather Forecast (NCWF), which went into service before the 2000 NBAA Convention. Before last December’s meeting in New Orleans, the agency went operational with a new icing diagnostic, and next year it is scheduled to unveil its icing forecast product.

The icing forecast is a color-coded icing probability graphic that has been in a test phase and is about to go into a one-year experimental status, where it is available on the aviation digital data system for users to look at but not use operationally. Feedback is being collected from pilots and dispatchers on how it is working and on its accuracy. After that, a decision will be made on whether to make it fully operational.

Items currently on the Friends/Partners wish list that it would like the FAA to approve are the icing forecast, a turbulence product, improving the longer-range convection forecast and a ceiling and visibility forecast for both terminal and area.

“All of these products are verified as to whether they are at least as good as the current product,” Fiduccia said. “Once it is clear that they are, then they can be made operational products.”

Describing Friends/Partners as a mechanism for “helping us all have a success,” he said that everybody involved in this has the same objective. “We all want to have better weather information so we can make better weather decisions, operate more safely, operate more efficiently and add more capacity to the system,” Fiduccia said.