Poster Session P1.2 Streamlining the FAA's Weather Architecture to meet Future NAS Needs

Monday, 4 October 2004
Cheryl G. Souders, FAA, Washington, DC; and R. C. Showalter and J. W. Tauss

Handout (619.9 kB)

As weather information services are crucial in supporting both the safety and efficiency of the National Airspace System (NAS), the FAA’s weather architecture fulfills an important role in the modernization of NAS services. Previous reports on aviation weather services (e.g., National Research Council, aviation industry, and FAA) indicate that approximately one-fourth of all aircraft accidents and one-third of fatal accidents were weather-related. Also mentioned was the fact that weather continues to be a major factor adversely affecting NAS capacity, contributing to approximately three-fourths of system delays greater than 15 minutes. Moreover, with air traffic activity approaching pre-September 11, 2001 levels, the NAS is again showing signs of stress in terms of having the airspace capacity to meet that demand. To mitigate these safety and efficiency constraints, aviation weather capabilities in the NAS must undergo major changes.

Recognizing this situation, the FAA implemented needed changes to the weather architecture by fielding the second and third stages of the Weather and Radar Processor (WARP) system, an “en route weather server” and meteorologists’ workstation at the Air Route Traffic Control Centers and Air Traffic Control System Command Center. Recently, the FAA began implementing its “terminal weather server”, the Integrated Terminal Weather System, which when fully deployed provides valuable products (not requiring meteorological interpretation) to traffic management specialists at the busiest NAS airports that are responsible for the majority of NAS delays. FAA-sponsored aviation weather R&D efforts are also providing both safety and capacity benefits with the emergence of new forecast products such as in-flight icing and turbulence gridded products. In the NAS, thunderstorms contribute the most to weather-related delays and aviation weather research has enabled the FAA to develop a prototype capability to generate thunderstorm forecasts (presently to two hours). While not used for operational purposes, these forecasts are viewed in numerous air traffic control facilities as part of a “concept of operations” phase.

The FAA’s Target System Description (TSD) provides insight into how the NAS weather architecture will evolve into the next decade. The TSD provides an architectural “snapshot” of the systems and facilities that will comprise the NAS at a point in time toward achieving the vision of the RTCA NAS CONOPS. In keeping with the theme of the modernization [to consolidate functionality, thereby, reducing the number of systems and associated life cycle costs], the TSD shows the consolidation of the functionality of weather product generation. This ‘streamlining’ greatly reduces the number of weather processors by the end of the next decade as a single weather processor emerges to generate the vast majority of NAS weather information. It will tailor and disseminate products to numerous different users across traditional NAS domains—en route, terminal, traffic flow management and flight services.

Leveraging off of industry-driven advances in areas such as telecommunications, data compression, and computer processing power, TSD-era systems facilitate the NAS modernization with information technology enhancements that increase user accessibility to weather data and enhance performance requirements (e.g., latency, reliability, etc.). This enables near simultaneous distribution of enhanced weather products and information to NAS service providers and users that greatly aids common situational awareness of hazardous weather. Incorporating weather information into automation systems goes even further by providing operational decision-makers with what they really want—a depiction of the adverse weather impact on NAS operations. An example is the integration of weather into traffic flow decision tools so that the decision-makers view only ‘capacity constraints.’

Despite recent and planned innovations to the NAS weather architecture, expectations must be tempered by the reality of the federal budget situation. FY05 and outyear budget projections indicate that the FAA will be operating in a very austere fiscal environment. This has led to a philosophical shifting of priorities in operations and acquisition. The Air Traffic Operations emphasis has shifted from simply molding the NAS infrastructure to enable capacity to meet demand to doing so without impacting the current level of NAS Services and saving (or avoiding) costs wherever possible. While the full impact of the budget shortfall on the weather architecture is unknown at this point, it is reasonable to assume that several weather programs (or program elements) will likely be delayed. An early ‘casualty’ of this fiscal reality is the Integrated Terminal Weather System—approximately one-third of all systems will be significantly delayed in implementation.

The challenge for the FAA - employ system engineering principles in order to prudently fund needed improvements to the NAS weather architecture that will harmonize with NAS efficiency (capacity) enhancements that are critical for modernizing the NAS.

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