6.8 Financial and operational implications of weather forecasts at an airline

Wednesday, 12 January 2000: 1:30 PM
Warren L. Qualley, American Airlines, Inc., Ft. Worth, TX

That there is a significant value to commercial aviation of weather forecasts goes without saying. However, placing anything but a qualitative value upon those forecasts is quite a formidable task. First, there are a number of different weather forecasts: terminal, enroute, forecasts specifically addressing hazardous weather, so-called "nowcasts", short-term forecasts and seasonal forecasts. Commercial airlines use different providers for each of these forecasts, National Weather Service (NWS) and foreign government weather offices, private weather data vendors and airline meteorology staffs. Further, each air carrier uses weather forecasts in different ways, depending upon their operating philosophy.

In everyday usage, a Terminal Aerodrome Forecast (TAF) is required for each airport a carrier uses: departure, departure alternate, destination, destination alternate, enroute alternate, etc. The TAF's are used by flight dispatchers, flight crews and operational planners at the airlines. Similarly, the other types of forecasts listed above are used by the same groups as well as the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA's) Air Traffic Control (ATC) group.

Each type of forecast has a different value depending upon the weather situation, and the values vary from carrier to carrier, but all of the forecasts are a significant contributor/detractor from the airlines' bottom lines.

This paper will address how one commercial passenger carrier, American Airlines, gauges the value of weather forecasts, tangentially discussing the relative values to the other users mentioned in previous paragraphs.

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