Combating Severe Weather

New technology provides improved flight–hazards forecasts, enabling flight operations managers, flight dispatchers and flight planners to make better decisions that enhance safety as well as reduce fuel spend and CO² emissions.

Innovation In Forecasting Flight Weather Hazards Improve Safety And Reduce Costs

One of the challenges facing flight planners and the flight–planning process is the lack of automated access to reliable and timely flight–hazards information needed to make informed decisions. Traditional flight–hazards forecasts are categorical, providing generic light, moderate or severe descriptions. They cover large geographical areas, forcing flight planners and dispatchers to make assumptions and, at times, alter routes — adding time and costs to the flight.

Further, these flight–hazards forecasts are produced by existing weather models only four times a day. They do not include details for individual flight levels; instead, they encompass a very large altitude range.

This non–specificity leaves the analyst to interpret the severity, timing and location of the potential flight disruption. To eliminate much of the guess work during decision making and boost the safety and efficiency of operations, aviation businesses are in need of weather–hazards forecasts that are timelier, more accurate and more granular.

State–of–the–art information technology now makes such forecasts available. Schneider Electric, which previously operated as four well–known brands — Kavouras, Meteorlogix, DTN and Telvent — has invested in both science and technology during the past two years to develop and patent new flight–hazards forecast methods and bring this much–needed innovation to the aviation industry. Enhanced forecasts for turbulence, icing and thunderstorms provide the accuracy and resolution needed for safer and more–efficient airline, corporate flight and helicopter operations. The new forecast data is available in both graphical and digital formats for use in flight–following, flight–planning and decision–support systems. The new technology automatically optimizes routes based on user–defined variables.

Schneider Electric uses a meteorologically based global weather data model that updates every three hours and extends 36 hours out. A high–definition U.S. model updates hourly and extends 18 hours out for the entire flight–hazards forecast suite. The outlook provided by these models enables analysts to better plan future or long–duration flights on a global basis.

Each of the forecasts — turbulence, icing and thunderstorms — is made available in both shape file and Web mapping services graphical formats for use by flight–following systems as well as a 0.5–degree GRIB 2 gridded and binary data format for flight–planning systems. The graphical product provides better forecast–area definition for personnel tracking flights, while the GRIB 2 offering makes highly concise information applicable for flight–planning processes.

Turbulence

The enhanced turbulence forecast is an eddy dissipation rate (EDR)–based forecast that integrates mountain wave, boundary layer and convective turbulence, along with upper–level clear–air turbulence (CAT), into a single forecast product. It reflects the rate at which the turbulence energy is absorbed by breaking down eddies into smaller and smaller eddies until ultimately converted into heat by viscous forces. It is the kinetic energy per unit mass per second, with units of velocity squared per second (m2/s3).

Today, the aviation community typically utilizes a turbulence forecast that defines large areas, and the forecast is qualitative (categorical), with forecast areas denoted as light, moderate or severe. As an International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standard, EDR is an atmospheric turbulence metric and provides a quantitative measurement of turbulence based on a scale from zero to one. EDR–based turbulence forecasts relate to EDR thresholds set by aircraft manufacturers, with a value of four EDR forecasting more turbulence for a smaller aircraft than for a large–body aircraft. In this way, the EDR turbulence forecast defines the specific aircraft types at risk by the turbulence.

The new EDR forecasts can help optimize route planning and save significant money for an airline. A recent case study examined the forecasted EDR turbulence at FL370 over the United States. As seen in Figure 1, the areas highlighted across the Rocky Mountains (north to south), as well as across the southern tier of the United States, indicate a relatively strong jet stream.

Figure 1: EDR–Based Turbulence Forecast

A snapshot from Schneider Electric AviationSentry Map layer display shows forecast EDR turbulence at FL370. The different shades represent different EDR values (in increments of .1, starting at .2).

Now, looking at a standard high–level SIGWX graphic as indicated in Figure 2, compare where the turbulence is forecast at the same time over the United States. There are larger areas of turbulence, especially over the Rocky Mountains and the southern United States, compared to the turbulence displayed at a specific flight level in Figure 1.

Figure 2: Standard High–Level SIGWX

The high–level SIGWX graphic comes from the Aviation Weather Center. It is displaying areas of forecast turbulence for the same time period compared to the AviationSentry forecast EDR turbulence graphic.

Figure 3, showing PIREP reports, focuses on an area of the Rocky Mountains where the EDR–based forecast indicated light to moderate turbulence. There is light turbulence for an Airbus A319 near Salt Lake City, Utah, and moderate turbulence reported by a McDonnell Douglas MD–11 north of Las Vegas, Nevada, verifying the EDR forecast.

Figure 3: PIREP Reports Confirm EDR–based Turbulence Forecasts

An enlarged view of the forecast EDR turbulence graphic noted in Figure 1 from AviationSentry shows current PIREP reports, which are noted within the areas of forecast turbulence of .3 EDR.

The detailed areas of forecast EDR show where a plane could have avoided the turbulence, without deviating greatly from a given route. With the average cost for one minute of flight time around US$96, a significant amount of fuel–related costs could be saved by not routing around a large forecasted area of significant turbulence. Access to detailed EDR forecasts for specific flight levels enables an airline analyst to safely determine where a flight can be routed without incurring significant costs.

Icing

The enhanced icing forecasts are created using icing calculations based on National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) research on ice accretion specific to individual airfoils. As a result, they are also aircraft specific and improve routing for individual aircraft types. With frequent model updates and more location–specific information with higher–resolution presentation, icing forecasts more precisely identify areas of known or forecast icing based on “No Icing” minimum equipment lists (MEL) limitations. Both turbulence and icing forecasts offer multiple individual flight levels as well as combined layers depicting the maximum flight levels for each hazard to better optimize flight–cruising levels.

Thunderstorm

This forecast offers high–definition convective activity on a truly global scale, allowing better flight planning for transoceanic flights that otherwise have limited thunderstorm data support. As shown in Figure 4, forecast convective activity is represented in a color–coded, radar–like view that allows users in flight planning and flight tracking to quickly identify areas of flight risk.

Figure 4: Flight–Risk Identification

The enhanced thunderstorm forecast provides fast flight–risk identification for the busy flight planner or flight tracker.

This package of enhanced flight–hazards forecasts is available through Schneider Electric’s MxVision AviationSentry Online® weather information service. Subscribers to this service will be able to select from the United States or global datasets as well as the specific flight levels and forecast periods they require via a simple graphical selection tool.

These revolutionary flight–hazards forecasts provide enhanced weather awareness that, until now, wasn’t possible. In addition, they minimize the interpretation necessary on the part of flight operations managers, flight dispatchers and flight planners. They provide decision support that impacts the bottom line for all aviation businesses.

The Airline Benefit

Airlines using the new technology will realize operational savings as well as reduced delays due to weather. The new flight–hazards forecasts offer a much higher–resolution set of data than previous forecasts. The addition of digital integration of these flight hazards with flight–planning, flight–following and weather–display solutions allows airlines and aircraft operators to plan less–circuitous routes and reduce overall operating costs, fuel consumption and CO² emissions.

While the aircraft is en route, alerts are generated based on the aircraft operator’s specific parameters along the planned route, allowing the aircraft dispatcher and captain to decide on minimum–cost reroutes during flight if forecast conditions change to the point where the parameters are exceeded.

Schneider Electric recently acquired Telvent, a leader in the weather industry, due to its top–ranked forecasts and innovative, patented solutions. Under the new brand, now backed by Schneider Electric’s global footprint, the focus remains the same — to provide the aviation industry with cutting–edge weather technology and information to help run safer, more efficient operations. Its innovative forecasts soon will be available to all airlines using the Sabre® AirCentre™ Flight Explorer or Sabre® AirCentre™ Flight Plan Manager platforms, making high–quality data available to optimize flight following as well as flight planning.