Lufthansa’s Flying Weather Stations

 - February 27, 2009, 9:00 AM

Winter weather, freezing temperatures and snow, wind or thunderstorms can add significantly to a flight crew’s stress level. And obtaining accurate and precise weather information is essential, not only for getting there safely, but also for calculating the optimal route in terms of time saved and fuel burned. Many weather tools are of limited use for flight planning because they focus only on the weather that’s happening on the ground. Nexrad radar does an adequate job of scanning the sky for precipitation, but to get a really good idea of what’s happening aloft there’s nothing like being there.

To improve forecasts along its routes, more than 280 airplanes in Lufthansa’s fleet can now collect weather data for Germany’s National Meteorological Service (Deutscher Wetterdienst). Lufthansa Systems, which is responsible for the coordinating data flow, developed the software used for processing the data that is collected in flight and transferring it back to the ground.

Called aircraft meteorological data relay (Amdar), the German system collects weather data during flight in similar fashion to NASA’s tropospheric airborne meteorological data reporting (Tamdar) program, which uses sensors and data transceivers on Northwest Airlink’s Saab 340 fleet to send real-time weather data back to the ground.

LH Passage, LH Cargo, LH Cityline and the German government have been working with Lufthansa Systems on the project for several years. Each day, around 950 queries are sent to aircraft and some 28,000 weather reports are prepared for meteorologists. They feed the Amdar data into weather prediction computers that calculate forecasts for all German airports and along Lufthansa routes. The data is also distributed to weather service providers worldwide. The ICAO World Area Forecast Centers in London and Washington, D.C., also use the Lufthansa Amdar data for forecasting upper-level winds and temperature, which are used by Lufthansa’s forecasting center for route optimization.

Amdar units installed in each airplane record and transmit barometric pressure, air temperature and wind speed. Because the aircraft are already equipped with measuring devices to record the data, no special weather sensors are required. Meteorologists can request data from any Lufthansa airplane at any time after takeoff. The requests are initiated on board using satcom and are also sent out at the specified time intervals.

Lufthansa says use of Amdar is allowing the airline to reduce delays, save fuel, avoid bad weather and provide pilots with better route forecasts.