WSI service gives enhanced weather data

 - July 29, 2008, 11:19 AM

WSI has put the finishing touches on a new interactive map section for its Pilotbrief Online weather service that offers an array of content features and filters that users could very well start to find addicting after only a few visits to the site.

Available only to subscribers of the Pilotbrief Online Pro version of service, the enhanced section presents users with a view of the whole world showing detailed weather information overlaid on a high-resolution global map. With just a few mouse clicks, a pilot can input the route of flight, zoom in to that part of that map and then begin populating it with layers showing Nexrad radar returns, satellite imagery, airmets and sigmets, thunderstorm watch boxes, TFRs and a host of other information.

Selecting the departure and destination airport for a flight prompts the system to suggest a route of flight, whether it be a direct routing or one of several preferred or special coded departure routes that ATC is likely to give. Typing in KTEB as the departure airport and KBOS as the destination, for example, allows the user to select from 11 routings recently used by ATC for flight between Teterboro Airport and Boston Logan. Once the user selects one of these, the route appears on the map in red.

The benefit of the interactive section of the PilotBrief site is that it allows the pilot to view an overall picture of the weather relative to the route of flight, said Paul Hathaway, director of product management for business aviation services at WSI. “It’s hard to show weather hazards in a route-sensitive context by viewing individual weather maps,” he said. “The interactive map gives you the ability to layer many of the weather products we offer within the context of your route of flight.”

The idea is to guide the pilot through the process of obtaining a weather briefing using relatively simple tools on a single Web page. Users can start by clicking on the Outlook & Video button near the top left of the page. This opens up a video player loaded with a brief overview of the day’s weather by a WSI meteorologist. The briefings will also provide updates about active TFRs for the day and significant convective activity that could affect ATC flow control.

A tour of the interactive map portion of the site revealed several things about the concept that are great and a few that are somewhat frustrating. Using the mouse to zoom to different parts of the world was a simple task, but it sometimes took a while for the map to load and also to home in on a precise location because of the computer connection lag. But once the information for a specific location appeared, toggling on and off the various layers revealed the interactive map’s true usefulness.

As far as user-selectable options go, pilots can choose a base map showing terrain, high- or low-altitude airways or roads. The Radar/Sat tab lets the user select a variety of combinations of Nexrad and satellite overlays and loop them at various playback speeds. The Layers tab features check boxes for 16 individual map overlays, including boxes showing areas of turbulence, icing and IFR conditions on the map. Hovering the mouse pointer directly over any of these areas calls up a box with additional information, such as the severity and altitudes of a particular area of turbulence.

The new version of Pilotbrief Pro also adds en route sigmets and forecasts for turbulence, thunderstorms, icing and volcanic ash, which previously were available only to airlines. Hathaway said WSI plans to add more features to the service, including direct links to FAA-approved online weather briefings and flight planning pages. Pricing for the Pilotbrief Pro service is $79.95 per month, which includes full access to the interactive map section.