The International Air Transport Association (IATA) reports good progress with its plan to establish a global database with real-time pooling and sharing of turbulence data generated by participating airlines during flight operations. The association expects trials of the “Turbulence Aware” platform to start in February and run throughout 2019, followed by a full launch in January 2020.
IATA senior vice president for safety and flight operations Gilberto Lopez Meyer called Turbulence Aware “a gamechanger” at the body’s global media day in Geneva. The concept of data-driven turbulence management has become quite popular with stakeholders, he said, but he characterized efforts to collect automated turbulence reports as fragmented and the associated data remains proprietary. The platform will cover the entire globe and be open to all airlines, like the IATA Operational Safety Audit program. “We want everybody to be safe,” said Lopez Meyer.
According to the FAA, turbulence ranks as the leading cause of injuries to cabin crew and airline passengers in non-fatal accidents, noted Katya Vashchankova, who heads the IATA Meteorological Program. Exact figures remain unavailable, she said, but turbulence costs the airline industry “millions of dollars per year” in injury compensation, damaged cabin interiors, aircraft inspections, out-of-service time, diversions, as well as increased fuel burn and CO2 emissions. Meanwhile, turbulence incidents are widely shared on social media and affect an airline’s brand and service perception.
According to FAA data released in August, airlines reported that 12 passengers and five crew members suffered injuries during turbulence last year. Over the past 15 years, 2009 was the worst year with a total of 94 people seriously injured—71 passengers and 23 crew members.
Turbulence Aware’s potential benefits to operators include not only improved safety and cost savings, but also flight operational efficiencies, said Vashchankova, who pointed out that airlines formally requested IATA to develop a global turbulence data sharing platform.
The project has already generated “significant” interest, she noted. Fourteen airlines from Asia, Europe, and North America—including three low-cost carriers and two non-IATA members, easyJet, and Southwest Airlines—actively participate in the project as part of the Advisory Council to create governance rules. Aer Lingus, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines have signed contracts to participate in the program, and Delta already has begun contributing data. “IATA’s collaborative approach to creating Turbulence Aware with open-source data means that airlines will have access to data to better mitigate turbulence,” Delta senior v-p of flight operations Jim Graham said. “Using Turbulence Aware in conjunction with Delta’s proprietary Flight Weather Viewer app is expected to build on the significant reductions we’ve seen already to both turbulence-related crew injuries and carbon emissions year-over-year.”
IATA contracted Snowflake software, a UK-based company specializing in real-time aviation data fusion, to build the platform. Data, including turbulence values, time stamp, aircraft position, and altitude, comes from contributing airlines or third-party ground servers in real time. It then gets consolidated in a single “quality controlled and anonymized” database, accessible to participants. Data processing throughout the platform will take a maximum of 30 seconds and airlines will be able to use their own flight planning and in-flight tools to integrate the data, explained Vashchankova.
According to its developers, Turbulence Aware represents a major step forward in turbulence mitigation compared with the meteorological tools and pilot reports (PIREP) that remain the standard way to report the phenomenon. “Forecasts can be many hours old and potentially inaccurate and the pilot reports are often subjective and can depend on aircraft size and pilot experience,” said Vashchankova.
In a separate project to improve weather forecasts, IATA is partnering with the World Meteorological Organization to expand the latter’s global Aircraft Meteorological Data Relay (AMDAR) program. The AMDAR program gathers real-time wind and temperature data from some 40 different airlines from across the globe.