The ability to detect and accurately pinpoint areas of existing and/or early-stage convection is critical to improving situational awareness and safety in the aviation industry. Given thunderstorms by definition include lightning and the vast majority of lightning is typically in-cloud (IC) as opposed to cloud-to ground (CG), it is necessary to have a network in place that detects total lightning activity (i.e., both IC and CG). Total lightning has been demonstrated to correlate well with storm dynamics and both case studies and statistical analyses suggest that total lightning is related to the presence or high likelihood of flight hazards such as hail, icing and turbulence. Additionally, lightning itself also poses a direct safety hazard to airborne aircraft as lightning strikes can cause engine failure, disrupt and damage aircraft electrical systems, lead to smoke and on-board fires, and temporarily affect flight crew vision. Total lightning information is also an important complement to existing weather radars as it can be highly useful in identifying areas of convection beyond radar ranges, locations where radar beams are blocked (i.e., mountainous areas), as well as early stage convective regions where precipitation returns do not yet appear significant.
Given that CG activity typically represents a small fraction of the lightning occurring in the atmosphere, CG detection networks are not sufficient to meet the mission requirements of organizations tasked with providing critical information to aviation interests. The emergence of total lightning availability offers significant opportunities to enhance aviation flight safety. To this end the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) published a safety recommendation stating that the Federal Aviation Administration should consider several enhancements to its operations including; incorporation of total lightning data into weather displays at both air route traffic control centers and terminal radar approach control facilities, as well as into products supplied to pilots in the cockpit. This paper reviews available total lightning network technology and potential applications for enhancing aviation safety. Case studies are reviewed and derivative products, such as proxy radar estimates, VIL and eco-tops are described.