FAA–NASA collaboration on automated aircraft weather observations culminating in TAMDAR
The need for automated weather reports from aircraft dates to September 1986 and the recommendations from the NCAR “Final Report of the Aviation Weather Forecasting Task Force” which was sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The Task Force placed their highest priority on recommendations to develop a national capability to collect and use automated reports from aircraft. Today, collection of Meteorological Data Collection and Reporting System (MDCRS) reports from major air carriers operating from the major hub airports stands as a testament to the Task Force recommendations. The MDCRS reports are an essential input to aviation weather support, especially the NOAA Rapid Update Cycle (RUC) model. Even so, the MDCRS reports do not cover much of the national airspace, particularly the lower altitudes below 20,000 feet.
To address specific recommendations for improving aviation weather support as noted by the Task Force report above, from the National Aviation Weather Program Council and other institutions, the FAA, NASA, and NOAA have been performing various collaborative research efforts. In particular, the research included development, prototyping, and validation of Electronic Pilot Reporting (E-PIREP) or AUTOMET technologies designed to collect and disseminate weather data from low altitude aircraft operations through on-board automation and data link communications. These aircraft measurements include atmospheric quantities and hazards such as icing conditions, turbulence, water vapor, winds, and temperature.
The government-sponsored research covered such areas as advanced sensors; communication and data link technologies; system architectures, including system standards and operations; human error; workload and integration modeling. One initial effort was NASA's Advanced General Aviation Transport Experiments (AGATE). The success of AGATE was followed by NASA's Aviation Safety and Security Program, and included a cooperative research effort to develop an electronic pilot reporting capability by a team of avionics companies.
The TAMDAR project grew out of the cooperative research effort with industry and led to the formulation of a NASA, FAA, NOAA, industry, and university team. One of the initial studies of this new project was to identify key market factors affecting the adoption of TAMDAR technology and to develop initial estimates for costs versus benefits, incentives, and business models for technology adoption. The study was conducted by Old Dominion University (ODU) and resulted in changing the focus from gathering such TAMDAR-type reports from unscheduled general aviation aircraft flight operations to scheduled low-altitude commuter and package carrier operations. Coincident with the ODU feasibility study was the development of applications for TAMDAR data, research on TAMDAR data impacts on numerical weather prediction and local forecasting, and research on a strategy for achieving deployment and implementation of TAMDAR on a large national scale.