Retiring the Area Forecast: Transitioning Select Area Forecasts to Digital and Graphical Alternatives

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Tuesday, 6 January 2015: 9:30 AM
129A (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Kevin Johnston, FAA, Warrenton, VA; and S. Schmidt, K. Stone, M. P. Murphy, and T. P. Kiley Jr.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), in coordination with the National Weather Service (NWS), is working to transition seven Area Forecasts (FAs), currently used as flight planning and pilot weather briefing aids, to digital and graphical alternatives.

The seven FAs affected include: FAUS41 (BOS), FAUS42 (MIA), FAUS43 (CHI), FAUS44 (DFW), FAUS45 (SLC), FAUS46 (SFO) and FAHW31 (Hawaii).

The Area Forecast (FA) is an abbreviated, plain-language forecast of specified weather phenomena covering a geographical area designated by FAA. The forecast is produced by NWS and is used to determine en-route weather and estimate conditions at airports that don't have a Terminal Aerodrome Forecast (TAF).

The FA contains weather information in a format originally developed in the 1930s. By design, it carries a character-count limitation and is prohibited from describing Instrument Flight Rule (IFR) conditions (reserved for AIRMETs and SIGMETs). Each FA covers an extremely large geographical area (typically, several states) and is only issued 3-4x daily (valid for 18hrs).

These specifications tend to produce a broad forecast of limited value. While the FA did meet aviation weather information needs for many years, today, NWS provides equivalent information through a number of better alternatives.

A joint-agency working group recently identified these digital and graphical alternatives that better-suit the needs of today's aviation users. They include:

         surface weather analyses and prognostic charts;

         public forecast discussions;

         Significant Weather (SIGWX) charts;

         the National Digital Forecast Database (NDFD);

         Terminal Aerodrome Forecasts (TAFs); and

         Airmen's Meteorological Information (AIRMETs).

Aviation users are already accustomed to consulting many of these weather products during normal flight planning. Together, they provide information similar to that found in the FA; often in higher resolution and with the added benefit of graphical depiction.

The working group compiled this list by piloting a process whereby individual weather and information components of the FA were mapped against other aviation weather products already provided by NWS. This allowed the team to identify areas of potential overlap among products.

The Agencies plan a similar analysis of other dated aviation weather products to look for opportunities to focus the attention of forecasters on providing information of most-use to pilots.

The working group's membership included broad subject-matter expertise from both FAA and NWS, as well as the National Transportation Safety Board. The team collected insight from additional aviation weather stakeholders including pilot organizations, weather briefers, airlines and air traffic controllers.

Before the proposed transition is implemented, FAA will conduct a formal safety risk assessment as part of FAA's Safety Management System. The Agencies are currently targeting 2015 for transition, with any change to the FA contingent upon the outcome of the safety risk assessment. Guidance with respect to the proper use of the proposed alternatives is forthcoming.

NOTE: FAs for Alaska (FAAK47, FAAK48, FAAK49, FAAK57, FAAK58, FAAK59, FAAK68), the Caribbean (FACA20) and the Gulf of Mexico (FAGX20) will remain unaffected at this time.