National Center for Atmospheric Research
Adverse winter weather can significantly disrupt normal airport operations. During winter storms runways along with access roads to the airport must be maintained and cleared of snow and ice in order to keep the airport operating near normal capacity. The safety and efficiency of airport and flight operations during winter events hinges on timely and accurate weather forecasts and the perceived impact of the storm on runway pavement conditions. Until recently, the airport maintenance community has relied on conventional methods of acquiring, synthesizing, and applying weather-related information in the runway treatment and operations decision process, which sometimes resulted in poor decisions and wasteful spending.
In 2001 the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) initiated a project with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and other national labs to develop a general roadway Maintenance Decision Support System (MDSS) for state DOT's. NCAR, which is operated by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), created a custom version of the FHWA MDSS for Colorado with a specific focus on Denver International Airport (DIA) runway operations. The DIA runway decision support system (RDSS) was setup to help DIA better manage and maintain runways during adverse wither weather conditions.
The RDSS prototype utilizes current weather observations and numerical model predictions from multiple sources to produce runway-specific analyses and forecasts of environmental conditions out to 72 hours. This paper will discuss how the general MDSS was adapted for airport specific runway operations with a focus on the DIA RDSS during winter weather. Topics include an overview of the forecast systems that make up the RDSS, including the weather forecast engine, the pavement model and rules of practice used to come up with runway treatment recommendations. The paper will also include a discussion on current forecast performance and proposed changes that can be made to improve the runway specific weather and conditions forecast. Lastly, a vision for a future comprehensive airport and ground flight operations decision support system is discussed.