Advanced in-cockpit weather technologies have served as both blessing and, arguably, curse to pilots, with the possibility of being overwhelmed by the sheer abundance of information at their fingertips. Helping pilots determine the right data to use was one of the goals of an NBAA-BACE education session titled “Advancing Avionics Weather Information.”
“We reach out to business aviation, general aviation pilots and commercial airlines,” explained Steve Abelman, manager of the FAA’s Aviation Weather Research Team. “We’d like to learn from you about what’s working, and what needs to improve.”
Gary Pokodner, program manager for the FAA’s Weather Technology in the Cockpit (WTIC) Program, said direct engagement with pilots is one of the most valuable opportunities for gathering information about what works with weather products already available, and what improvements are needed to help pilots make better weather-related decisions.
“It’s very hard to say we’re going to cut down, or even stop, accidents,” he added. “We’re geared towards enhancing safety, so we’re going out and soliciting inputs from pilots to identify hazard risks, and where you’ve had close calls.”
As one example, NEXRAD weather radar brings highly-detailed graphical depictions of weather to panel displays and portable electronic devices; however, latency in transmitting that data means information presented as ‘real-time’ may actually be as much as 15-20 minutes old. That’s a lifetime for a flight crew relying upon that data to help them maintain a safe distance from active convective cells.
“Although aviation is considered to be very safe, weather continues to cause problems,” Pokonder added. “It’s is still a leading cause of fatal and non-fatal accidents, especially in the GA arena, and the top two causes of fatalities – controlled flight into terrain and loss of control – often have a weather component.”
While the WTIC doesn’t develop new products itself, the team closely examines ways to leverage the capabilities of existing technologies. Among the possibilities is “crowdsourcing” radar information from several different aircraft in a given area, to present a larger and more accurate composite radar image over a given area.
“Our idea is to enhance weather information in areas where we don’t have it, particularly in some of the remote GA (low-altitude) regions,” Pokonder added.
Abelman noted that both teams are also working to improve the quality and quantity of information available through flight information broadcast, a component of ADS-B technologies.
“Does a pilot prefer the uncertainty in a 15-minute weather product, versus a product that’s 10 minutes old, by the time of dissemination?” he asked. “There’s something to be said about better understanding in the way to use these 15- or 30-minute future products that [still] offer accuracy values in the 95 percent range. It’s a very touchy subject, and we want to work with the pilot community to figure it out.”
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