J3.3 Lightning Safety at Airports—Material for Thunder

Wednesday, 9 January 2013: 4:30 PM
Room 17A (Austin Convention Center)
Matthias Steiner, NCAR, Boulder, CO; and W. Deierling, E. Nelson, K. Stone, D. Johnson, R. Bass, and J. A. Colavito

Thunderstorms and lightning pose a safety risk to personnel working outdoors, such as people maintaining airport grounds (e.g., mowing grass or repairing runway lighting) or servicing aircraft on ramps (handling baggage, food service, refueling, tugging and guiding aircraft from/to gates, etc.). Since lightning strikes can cause serious injuries or death, it is important to provide timely alerts to airport personnel so that they can get to safety when lightning is imminent.

There are no standardized lightning safety rules employed across the aviation industry, which may yield notably different rules being applied by multiple airlines even at a single airport. The rules employed by airlines to halt ramp operations, and airport operators to get outdoor personnel inside, are typically based on a first lightning strike observed within a critical distance of the airport, but there is a multitude of distance criteria employed by the airlines and airport operators, and there can be a variety of different sources of lightning information. There are likewise differences among operators in how long one should wait after the last lightning strike occurred until outdoor activities may safely resume. Moreover, ramp closures slow down airport operations and, if they are of unnecessarily prolonged duration, may cause avoidable inefficiencies not just for terminal operations but potentially also for traffic management of the national airspace.

In this presentation we discuss some of the key issues related to these lightning safety rules. From an airline operator's perspective this is an optimization problem in terms of maximizing both efficiency (i.e., minimizing downtimes) and safety for ground personnel (minimizing injuries). While there are significant economic impacts in these decisions, including operational downtime and personnel injuries, our focus will be on highlighting a number of the key ambiguities involved in the decision-making process.

This research is supported by the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official policy or position of the FAA.

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