A recent report following the AirAsia tragedy of Flight QZ8501 revealed that officials did not pick up weather reports in person, which has been hailed as a ‘missed opportunity’ by experts.
This is not to say that AirAsia violated any aviation policies, but it has highlighted an issue that meteorologists and airline officials could have detailed potentially dangerous weather conditions in real-time.
If flight operations personnel typically receive weather reporting updates, then there is time for essential decision-making to take place, including re-routing if necessary. According to CNN, the occurrence of AirAsia flight operations staff not directly collecting weather documents is not uncommon, and weather updates are generally received by email, and not in person.
Although, according to AirAsia, there is no change in the method of receiving copies of weather information, the airline has made a change in how the information is processed by its personnel.
The tragic events of the crash are still being investigated and search efforts have been hampered by severe weather and storm conditions. Of the 162 people on board the aircraft when it downed in the Java Sea, 39 have been recovered and 16 officially identified.
Weather conditions are blamed for a high percentage of aircraft accidents and it is critical that real-time weather reporting is an advantage for airlines and operators for flight planning and enhanced decision-making. Industry messaging and support services providers realise the importance of reliable, timely delivery of aviation messaging in order to maximise efficiency throughout aircraft operations and allowing real-time decision making with the implementation of flight deck weather.
Following community feedback, the Washington State Department last year started the process of bringing back the deactivated, privately-owned weather reporting system for the Methow Valley State Airport facility in Winthrop.
Located near the airport, the Automated Weather Observation System (AWOS) will provide weather updates and flight planning access to local pilots via radio.
A small airport, operating mostly for private aircraft and national services, such as wildfire co-ordination, Methow Valley will benefit from the weather reporting system as the nearest current system is located around 30 miles away at Omak Municipal Airport, who experience different weather patterns.
Weather reporting systems are vital to flight operations, giving pilots access to up-to-date weather changes or adversities enhances safety.
Modern commercial aircraft cannot operate without reliable weather reporting and many modern systems provide radar overlays, graphical weather and wind speeds data information.
According to major airlines, improved use of satellite and datalink communications technology has resulted in fewer incidences of turbulence and will continue to do so as more and more airlines utilise the high-performance tools at their fingertips.
Using the latest solutions for communications and navigation, airlines and traffic control have gained a greater understanding of flying conditions resulting in better flight planning and route optimisation to circumnavigate storms and minimise ground delays.
According to the Bureau of Transportation, 36% of all delays in 2013 were weather-related. This sounds like a pretty high occurrence, but when compared with the figures of 2003, they are down by a whopping 50%.
The threat of turbulence has been a challenge to airline operators, due to its invisibility on radar or satellite charts. Meteorologists at Kansas’s Aviation Weather Centre produce global weather forecasts every six hours and are now able to predict areas of turbulence using complex weather models and informative reports from pilots and sensors on some aircraft. This enables dispatchers to re-route aircraft if necessary to avoid these areas in advance and thus preventing the chaos that could ensue in busy airspace.
Using modern aviation technology it is hoped that the numbers of injuries as a result of turbulence, which has been estimated at an average of 36 people per year since 2002, according to the FAA, will be cut dramatically as reliable solutions are maintained.
Today, communications and navigation systems are streamlining not just efficient operation in the aircraft and on the ground, but are improving the entire flight experience for the passenger.
An eight-month weather safety campaign has been launched this week at the Great Alaska Aviation Gathering in Anchorage, with an aim to help pilots prepare for weather issues that may arise over the coming year. The campaign, entitled ‘Got Weather?’ is to be managed by a partnership between the FAA and the GA community and will deal will a focus weather topic each month via an online portal, in addition to safety seminars and case studies.
Aviation accidents caused by adverse weather are amongst the most frequent across the world with almost 75% of these resulting in fatalities. The campaign will discuss turbulence issues, icing, high winds and thunderstorms as part of the initiative to bring enhanced awareness to GA pilots.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said, “General aviation is a vibrant part of our country’s culture and our economy, but too many lives are lost each year in general aviation crashes related to weather. This campaign will help ensure that our general aviation pilots are prepared in the face of bad weather and are as safe and well-trained as possible.”
“The link between aviation safety and weather is something that can never be overemphasized,” said vice president of safety and advocacy for the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), Sean Elliott. “Understanding weather and how it affects your planned flight is essential, and that’s why EAA supports this safety initiative for all aviators.”
The official launch date for ‘Got Weather?’ is 4th May and is expected to run until December.
Weather issues in aviation can cause disruption on many levels, which is why critical messaging is high on the list of operational priorities for most airlines.
Although not all airlines seem to handle these adverse conditions too well, as was apparent in Delhi over the last few days. Passengers were left stranded, some since Tuesday evening with little or no information, food or indeed luggage, as flights were delayed and cancelled due to foggy conditions.
There were closed desks and mobbed airline staff as the situation reached fever pitch with some passengers left standing on tarmac for more than an hour.
Traveller Annamma Sam George, who had lost her baggage enroute from America earlier in the week said, “I will never come to Delhi again in the winter. The airport authorities are probably too busy handling the cancelled and delayed flights, but my valuables are in the bag and I’m running out of cash.”
The T3 visitors lounge was packed with anxious, stranded passengers simply left with nothing.
Nothing can be done about the weather – that much is clear – but with advanced messaging solutions within aviation, there is certainly room for improvement upon passenger services and facilities in adverse conditions and situations.