Transformation of the NAS to NextGen and the FAA Weather Architecture Impacts: An Update

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Wednesday, 20 January 2010
Cheryl G. Souders, FAA, Washington, DC; and R. C. Showalter, J. Tauss, and L. Leonard

Handout (1.9 MB)

Although today's National Airspace System (NAS) is the safest in the world, it is under significant stress. With aircraft operations expected to grow significantly through the 2025 timeframe, there are well-founded concerns that the current air transportation system will not be able to accommodate moderate growth, even in the near term. Not all major metropolitan airports can handle increased air operations by just building more runways to meet the expected peak demand. Moreover, current processes and procedures do not provide adequate flexibility necessary to meet the growing demand for new super-density operations hubs and the shift to increased numbers of smaller aircraft that require more flight operations to move equal numbers of people. In order to meet the need for increased capacity and efficiency while maintaining safety at existing airports and spaceports, new technologies and processes must be implemented to accommodate higher volumes of air traffic operations safely, efficiently, and in an environmentally sound manner.

As weather information services are crucial in supporting the safety, capacity and efficiency of the NAS, the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) weather architecture fulfills a crucial role in the NAS. Previous reports on aviation weather services (i.e., aviation industry, FAA, National Research Council, et al) indicate that approximately one-fourth of all aircraft accidents and one-third of fatal aircraft accidents were weather-related. Weather also continues to be a major factor adversely affecting NAS capacity, contributing to approximately 70% of system delays greater than 15 minutes. Given the expected increase in demand, the NAS weather architecture must transition from the NAS of today to the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) to mitigate the enormous impact that adverse weather will pose. With the expectation that by 2025 capacity must accommodate a growth in air traffic up to three times that of today, mitigation of weather impacts becomes increasingly crucial. To mitigate these efficiency and capacity constraints while maintaining safety, aviation weather capabilities in the NAS must undergo major changes.

The FAA's NAS Enterprise Architecture (NAS EA) defines the transition of the current Air Traffic Control System to NextGen. The NAS EA includes roadmaps that layout the strategic activities (service delivery and infrastructure) to improve NAS operations and move towards the vision of NextGen. These executive views show the evolution of major FAA investments/programs to meet the future demand.

In keeping with the NextGen theme of transformation while consolidating functionality [to reduce the number of systems and associated life cycle costs], the weather roadmap reflects this consolidation for both observing and weather product generation capabilities. The FAA will be consolidating the functionality of its surface observing systems, as well as the functionality of the surveillance weather channels/weather radars/wind shear systems. Both NextGen weather radar & surface observing capabilities will consider multi-agency requirements. Additionally, the FAA plans to integrate the functionality of Weather and Radar Processor (WARP) that must be sustained into the NextGen era with the Corridor Integrated Weather System (CIWS) 2-hour convective forecast and maturing aviation convective forecast algorithms (e.g., Consolidated Storm Prediction for Aviation (CoSPA)) out of aviation weather R&D in work package one (WP1) of the NextGen Weather Processor (NWP), a fully net-enabled system. To ensure new weather R&D capabilities are implemented in the shortest possible time, the NWP will be implemented in three work packages.

The first major FAA NextGen weather ‘system' is the NextGen Network Enabled Weather (NNEW). NNEW capabilities will be coupled with subordinate enabling activities under the Reduce Weather Impact (RWI) Solution Set in support of the NextGen “key capability” of “Weather Integrated into Decision-Making.” NNEW will provide all stakeholders with network access to a common weather picture across the NAS. NNEW will identify, adapt and implement standards for system-wide weather data sharing and formatting. NNEW will build Network-Enabled Operations (NEO) capabilities to provide the FAA's portion of the virtual Four-Dimensional Weather Data Cube (Cube). The Cube will provide access to a virtual set of global weather information approved for aviation use, including current and forecast weather information from multiple federal agency and international resources.

By NextGen weather information, including probabilistic forecasts, will be integrated into decision support systems of both FAA service providers and users, further enhancing the collaborative decision making and risk managements processes necessary to mitigating weather constraints. For example, in traffic flow management tools, integrated probabilistic forecasts will incorporate both the uncertainty in weather forecasts and that of traffic demand to provide traffic managers with enhanced capacity forecasts that minimize the loss of usable airspace. Fully capable aircraft will have a standardized set of weather sensors/algorithms to provide weather information to other users directly and indirectly via the 4-D weather virtual database. Aviation weather research will continue to resolve forecasting deficiencies such as a highly accurate, 6-hour to 10-hour convective forecast that is essential to support traffic management in the NextGen era. NextGen will require transforming the current point-to-point communications to a net-centric weather capability that will ensure all users receive weather information in real-time in a user context format. For the FAA, this net-centric capability is the System-Wide Information Management and its implementation will replace the current FAA weather dissemination systems/subsystems.

The FAA has developed NextGen functional and performance weather requirements, which have been distributed for review. Once the user review has been completed and comments resolved, modeling and simulations with service providers (e.g., traffic flow management specialists) and users will be used to finalize these requirements and allocate them to the weather infrastructure roadmap. The challenge for the FAA -- employ system engineering ‘best practices' that are critical for transforming NAS capabilities into NextGen in a timely and cost effective manner.