Survey of Lightning Warning Procedures for Ramp Closures at US Airports

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Wednesday, 7 January 2015: 4:45 PM
129A (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Randall Bass, FAA, Washington, DC; and M. Steiner and W. Deierling

Handout (828.6 kB)

Thunderstorms and associated lightning impact air traffic at an airport, causing delays, diverts and even cancellations. Lightning also affects ground operations at an airport, posing a safety hazard to people who are working outdoors such as personnel servicing aircraft on the airport ramp or maintaining airport grounds and equipment. To ensure personnel safety at large airports, major US airlines and airport operators typically employ some sort of warning procedures to cease ramp operations when lightning is within a specified distance from the airport. However, most small and regional airports have minimal lightning warning procedures, and in many cases have none at all. Generally, lightning warning procedures that are in place vary by airline and airport, with different rules and criteria for suspending operations when lightning is detected as well as for resuming ramp operations when lightning has ended.

In addition to the safety aspect, different sensors, guidelines and adherence to procedures for resuming ramp operations after a storm passes also results in inefficiencies to air traffic at an airport that often causes impacts to the entire National Airspace System. While reopening the ramp too early may compromise safety of personnel, leaving the ramp closed longer than necessary extends delays of departing aircraft and keeps arrival aircraft in holding patterns or forces them to divert. These inefficiencies are economically costly to airlines and passengers alike, and create additional work for air traffic controllers.

In an attempt to improve safety while minimizing inefficiencies, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is conducting research on developing a set of recommended lightning warning guidelines and procedures that airports and airlines, regardless of size or geographic location, can utilize for their operations. The goal is to generate guidelines that can be implemented at little or no cost, and can be tailored by the airport and airlines to meet their operational needs and demands. This presentation will provide an overview of the problem, an example of inefficiencies at a major airport during a lightning event, and status of the research in development of these guidelines.