3.5 What If Every Aeronautical Vehicle Operating in Our Airspace Were to Report Weather Conditions?

Monday, 13 January 2020: 3:00 PM
Michael Robinson, The MITRE Corporation, McLean, VA; and M. Fronzak, M. Steiner, and T. Becher

Imagine a future in which every aeronautical vehicle operating in the airspace system of the United States provided consistent, in situ weather observations. How would this improve the safety, efficiency, and reliability of all modes of aerial transportation? How also might that weather information be utilized to improve ALL weather and weather impact predictions, thus enhancing benefits to society as a whole?

We are asserting that every aeronautical vehicle making use of airspace in the United States should be required to report the meteorological conditions encountered along its operational trajectory. At a minimum, this should include pressure altitude, temperature, wind speed and direction, and turbulence information. Optionally, this may also include relative humidity, and possibly other quantities that might be relevant to enhance the safety of the public. Reporting all conditions is key. Benign conditions for a large aircraft may be hazardous for a small aircraft due to their significantly increasing sensitivity to weather. Moreover, future automated and eventual autonomous operations will require advanced weather sensing capabilities to ensure safe and efficient operations.

The above position for mandatory weather reporting will create opportunities and add value that outweighs the cost and the resulting economic activity. The emerging modes of transportation, like urban air mobility (UAM) and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) operating in non-traditional airspaces, pose more stringent requirements on our weather monitoring and prediction capabilities than can be satisfied at present. The scientific community aims to improve its understanding of atmospheric processes in the boundary layer and complex environments, like rugged terrain and urban landscapes, or near thunderstorms. Detailed observations are essential to further the scientific understanding, which in turn enables better predictions (not just of weather, but also of outcomes or responses influenced by weather).

While many observations are available at ground level, relatively limited observations are made aloft. Through the proposed mandate, a wealth of new observations will become available (e.g., from UAS and UAM vehicles operating in the lower parts of the atmosphere), thus greatly expanding the already long and mutually beneficial synergy between aviation and meteorology. It has been clearly demonstrated that observations made by large transport category aircraft have a huge positive impact on numerical weather prediction systems. We anticipate that the emerging new stream of meteorological observations from vehicles operating in non-traditional airspaces and emerging crowdsourcing of individual observation stations will substantially enhance our weather prediction capabilities, in turn yielding increased safety, efficiency and reliability of aviation operations and public safety at large.

We are looking at a data-rich future, where sharing of data and information will yield greater benefits to air transportation (and beyond) than can be achieved individually by organizations and/or operators. The right time to consider this mandate is now, as this new class of emergent vehicles is still ramping up, thus presenting more advantageous ‘equipage’ opportunities. The overall path forward to ultimately harvesting the envisioned benefits, however, is not easy. There are many hurdles along the way, related to technical (e.g., sensors, communication), cost (installation and operation), and regulatory aspects (data standards, ownership, etc.) that will need to be worked out. In addition, tradeoff and benefits studies will be needed to address how all that data would best be utilized. These studies will include offline scientific investigations focused on process understanding and development of predictive capabilities, as well as real-time uses of such data to support more complex (and, in parts, autonomous) aviation operations and innovative data assimilation procedures for even broader societal applications and benefits.

Approved for Public Release: Distribution Unlimited. Public Release Case Number: 19-2507

© 2019 The MITRE Corporation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

- Indicates paper has been withdrawn from meeting
- Indicates an Award Winner