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BLOG: A new way to forecast the weather


Aviation plays a huge role in both the United States and international infrastructure, from transporting people for leisure and business trips to moving cargo both domestically and internationally, writes Filipe Silva.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) handles over 45,000 flights a day in the US alone, with international flight traffic increasing 150.6% from July 2021 to July 2022, according to International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Recently, airlines have also been on a mission to decrease emissions and optimise fuel burn to save money, which is heavily reliant on route planning with significant weather contingencies.

Jet fuel prices are up 73.4% from one year ago, or an additional $133 billion to the fuel bill so far in 2022, making fuel optimisation a necessary strategy for airlines as they rebound from the pandemic and work within their budget.

Sustainability has grown increasingly important in the industry as well, with aviation making up 3% of global CO2 emissions. Airlines worldwide have agreed to hit net zero emissions by 2050 as part of IATA’s resolution and commitment to align with the Paris agreement, but current decreases are only pegged at 1% annually.

Forecasting is an essential first step for flight planning, and meteorologists are a critical part of any airline. Unfortunately, the weather models don’t have sufficient resolution for wind, temperature, humidity, and dew point horizontally or vertically at flight levels.

Another long-standing headache for meteorologists in the aviation industry is the lack of observations both at flight level and in between Meteorological Terminal Air Report (METAR) sites. Once an aircraft leaves the range of the airport radar, or nearest NEXRAD site, visibility into what’s happening in the atmosphere decreases.

US-based weather technology start-up, Climavision, has a two-pronged approach to tackle these issues. We have developed a powerful forecast model informed by a novel, space-based global datasets, and a proprietary high-resolution radar network spanning the continental United States.

This radar network supplements to the lower resolution radar data available from the National Weather Service (NWS) and Federal Aviation (FAA) Administration.

In the current volatile atmosphere, technology that can keep up will be pivotal. The Global Radio-Occultation and Observation (GRO) forecast model developed by Climavision, for example, is fed thousands of satellite-based observations daily.

This additional assimilated data provides much better insight into our global atmosphere, particularly in the middle and upper levels where planes fly. GRO produces high-quality spatially and temporally dense data, which is key for optimal operation and performance of aircraft to keep them safe and fuel-efficient.

For flight path planning, GRO has superior accuracy in forecasting upper-level winds in both short and medium range timeframes. For international flights especially, where there are very limited observations over the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, this is very important. GRO presents far more detailed layers of the atmosphere and allows flight planners to leverage finer details of the atmosphere than other models.

This approach has multiple benefits, particularly the continuous descent approach (CDA) into the airport.

Every time a pilot pulls back on the throttle, not only does it create a bumpy approach for the passengers, but the aircraft burns literally tons of fuel, releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. If the pilot had a highly localised, more accurate forecast for wind speed and direction on flight level, they could coast to the airport, saving upwards of 70kg of fuel per flight. Measured across an entire fleet, this represents a substantial annual cost savings.

Forecasting also plays a key role in safety and mitigating delays. This past summer there were countless weather delays – both before takeoff and en route, manoeuvring around severe storms.

The FAA cites weather as the largest cause for delays, accounting for 69% of delays over 15 minutes. These delays can cost $1400-$4500 per hour. A more precise forecast can be helpful in reducing weather-related delays, not only in areas with observational gaps, but also in very congested airspace and airports.

While accurate forecasting is an essential piece of the puzzle, visibility into the current state of the atmosphere holds great importance. The United States already holds the gold standard for radar coverage, with nearly 200 NWS and FAA radars deployed, but not every airport has sufficient radar coverage.

With large volumes of air traffic moving through areas with limited radar coverage, having a supplemental network will prove extremely valuable. Our radars also provide real-time, dual-polarisation weather data in the lowest part of the atmosphere at 10x the resolution of traditional radars, making the picture for pilots much clearer.

In an age where weather conditions are more volatile and unpredictable, keeping up with upgraded forecasting technology is key. Where can the next step take your airline?

About the author
Filipe Silva is the global business development manager of Climavision.

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