New Wx Service Monitors Solar Activity

 - November 20, 2019, 5:18 PM
A new service aims to provide aviators and aircraft operators with up-to-date information on magnetic storms and elevated atmospheric radiation from solar activity. (Photo: NASA)

To help mitigate deleterious effects on aircraft communications, navigation, and crew and passenger health due to radiation levels from solar events, a new 24/7 service began operations earlier this month to provide realtime worldwide space weather updates for commercial and general aviation.

According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the service generates and shares space weather advisories that are provided to air transport area control centers, airport meteorological offices, international OPMET databanks, international NOTAM offices, and aeronautical fixed-service internet-based services.

Those reports are created using data collected from dedicated space weather monitoring stations in 17 countries, namely the ACFJ consortium of Australia, Canada, France, and Japan; the PECASUS consortium, including the U.S., Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, and UK; and two regional centers managed by a consortium including China, the Russian Federation, and South Africa. Furnished to operators as part of their standard meteorological information when route planning, the service also provides inflight updates.

“This new capability will permit flight crew and flight operations experts to make use of the most updated information possible on any solar events, which could potentially impact aircraft systems or passenger health,” said ICAO secretary-general Fang Liu.

Aviation risks arise primarily from two types of solar activity. Large solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CME) generate magnetic storms that can play havoc with anything that relies on electromagnetic waves; such as satellites, electronic communications, and the aircraft in general. CMEs can also increase harmful atmospheric radiation levels at traditional aircraft cruising altitudes and even ground level, depending on their intensity.