Summary

Adverse weather has a major impact on aviation safety and efficiency. During 1988–1992, one-fourth of all aircraft accidents and one-third of fatal accidents were related to weather (Salottolo, 1994). In addition, 41 percent of air traffic delay time during 1990 was attributable to weather. These delays accounted for approximately $4.1 billion of direct costs to the airline industry—not including the financial loss and inconvenience suffered by the traveling public (OFCM, 1992). Projected increases in air travel will tend to exacerbate the impact of adverse weather on aviation safety and efficiency. Improving aviation weather services and related research is crucial if the national airspace system is to continue meeting public expectations for safety, efficiency, affordability, and convenience.

Leadership

The Primary Recommendation

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) should provide the leadership, establish the priorities, and ensure the funding needed to improve weather services for aviation users and to strengthen related research.1



Federal statutes clearly intend that the executive branch provide the weather services necessary to foster the safe and efficient use of the nation's airspace. In particular, Title 49 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (Title 49) makes the FAA Administrator responsible for promoting the growth and development of a safe and efficient system of air commerce in the United States. The term ''safe and efficient'' appears many other times in Title 49, particularly with regard to FAA staffing, airspace usage, and research and development of new systems and procedures.

The committee concludes that federal responsibilities for ensuring aviation safety and efficiency and for providing aviation weather services are properly defined in existing legislation. Furthermore, the primary impediment to improving aviation weather services is not a lack of understanding regarding the types of services that users need or the areas of research that are needed to provide these services. Rather, there is a lack of consensus and cooperation among the government agencies, private weather services, research organizations, and user groups involved in aviation weather. Together, they have the resources to significantly improve aviation weather services, but they will achieve this goal only if they act in a concerted effort so that their individual actions are mutually reinforcing.

Vigorous leadership within the federal government and the personal accountability that comes with a sense of ownership are needed to build consensus and coordinate the overall effort to optimize aviation weather services and related research. Because aviation safety and efficiency are primarily the responsibility of the FAA, the FAA should provide this leadership. Other federal agencies, state governments, and the private sector should follow the FAA's lead to optimize current and future aviation weather systems and services.

The committee's recommendation that the FAA vigorously execute the lead agency role is the foundation for all of the other recommendations. The purpose of these recommendations is not to significantly increase the FAA's responsibility for providing or funding aviation weather services, systems, or related research. Instead, the recommendations are intended to improve the manner

1  

This summary describes the nine highest priority recommendations generated by the National Aviation Weather Services Committee. A complete list of the committee's Findings and recommendations appears in Appendix A. See Chapter 6 (page 55) for additional information on this recommendation.



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--> Summary Adverse weather has a major impact on aviation safety and efficiency. During 1988–1992, one-fourth of all aircraft accidents and one-third of fatal accidents were related to weather (Salottolo, 1994). In addition, 41 percent of air traffic delay time during 1990 was attributable to weather. These delays accounted for approximately $4.1 billion of direct costs to the airline industry—not including the financial loss and inconvenience suffered by the traveling public (OFCM, 1992). Projected increases in air travel will tend to exacerbate the impact of adverse weather on aviation safety and efficiency. Improving aviation weather services and related research is crucial if the national airspace system is to continue meeting public expectations for safety, efficiency, affordability, and convenience. Leadership The Primary Recommendation The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) should provide the leadership, establish the priorities, and ensure the funding needed to improve weather services for aviation users and to strengthen related research.1 Federal statutes clearly intend that the executive branch provide the weather services necessary to foster the safe and efficient use of the nation's airspace. In particular, Title 49 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (Title 49) makes the FAA Administrator responsible for promoting the growth and development of a safe and efficient system of air commerce in the United States. The term ''safe and efficient'' appears many other times in Title 49, particularly with regard to FAA staffing, airspace usage, and research and development of new systems and procedures. The committee concludes that federal responsibilities for ensuring aviation safety and efficiency and for providing aviation weather services are properly defined in existing legislation. Furthermore, the primary impediment to improving aviation weather services is not a lack of understanding regarding the types of services that users need or the areas of research that are needed to provide these services. Rather, there is a lack of consensus and cooperation among the government agencies, private weather services, research organizations, and user groups involved in aviation weather. Together, they have the resources to significantly improve aviation weather services, but they will achieve this goal only if they act in a concerted effort so that their individual actions are mutually reinforcing. Vigorous leadership within the federal government and the personal accountability that comes with a sense of ownership are needed to build consensus and coordinate the overall effort to optimize aviation weather services and related research. Because aviation safety and efficiency are primarily the responsibility of the FAA, the FAA should provide this leadership. Other federal agencies, state governments, and the private sector should follow the FAA's lead to optimize current and future aviation weather systems and services. The committee's recommendation that the FAA vigorously execute the lead agency role is the foundation for all of the other recommendations. The purpose of these recommendations is not to significantly increase the FAA's responsibility for providing or funding aviation weather services, systems, or related research. Instead, the recommendations are intended to improve the manner 1   This summary describes the nine highest priority recommendations generated by the National Aviation Weather Services Committee. A complete list of the committee's Findings and recommendations appears in Appendix A. See Chapter 6 (page 55) for additional information on this recommendation.

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--> in which the FAA and the rest of the federal government execute their current responsibilities for providing a safe and efficient system of air transport. For example, the National Weather Service (NWS) should continue to ensure the availability of accurate and comprehensive meteorological data and weather forecasts that meet the needs of pilots, controllers, and other aviation weather users. As part of its effort to provide necessary leadership, the FAA should accomplish the following tasks: Specify national and regional aviation weather requirements. Organize multiagency participation in aviation weather research, operations, and training. Justify aviation weather budget requests. Orchestrate a coordinated aviation weather research and development program. Improve the understanding and use of weather information by aviation users. Provide day-to-day dissemination of weather information to aviation users. Respond to the recommendations contained in this report and in Weather for Those Who Fly (NRC, 1994). To ensure that the FAA and other agencies accept the FAA's leadership role, the executive branch should formally designate the FAA as the lead federal agency responsible for the effectiveness and efficiency of the national aviation weather system. In response, the FAA should organize itself to take on this task vigorously. For example, the FAA Administrator should designate an associate administrator to assume overall responsibility for carrying out the FAA's lead agency role for aviation weather and to serve as a single focal point within the FAA with the authority to provide effective internal and external coordination of aviation weather services and related research programs that involve the FAA. In addition, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Department of Transportation, and Department of Commerce should expeditiously issue and implement updated or expanded policy directives to more fully comply with the intent of federal legislation regarding the provision of aviation weather services.2 Separation of Aircraft from Hazardous Weather Major Recommendation The FAA should adopt the philosophy that weather services are an important part of its air traffic responsibilities; it should develop procedures and weather products to improve the ability of pilots and air traffic controllers to ensure that aircraft avoid hazardous weather.3 The FAA, which is heavily influenced by active and former air traffic controllers, seems to have developed a general cultural bias against increasing its involvement with weather and weather-related issues. During the next few years, however, advanced aviation weather services and systems could increase the accuracy and timeliness of weather information that is available to users of aviation weather services, including air traffic controllers. Such new services and systems would allow the FAA to enhance aviation safety by assuming a greater role in separating aircraft from hazardous weather. Currently, the responsibility for keeping aircraft out of hazardous weather rests with pilots. However, as illustrated by accidents such as the 1994 crash of USAir Flight 1016 in Charlotte, North Carolina, pilots—and their passengers—would benefit if air traffic controllers were more cautious about clearing aircraft to operate in areas where hazardous weather is known to exist.4 This is especially true in cases where controllers have weather information that is more current and complete than the information available to pilots. The committee recognizes that additional responsibilities associated with separating aircraft from weather should not interfere with the ability of controllers to carry out their current responsibility for separating aircraft from each other, which is also critical to aviation safety. The committee also accepts the need for pilots to retain ultimate responsibility for the safety of their aircraft. Nonetheless, in light of ongoing advances in weather observing and forecasting systems, the committee recommends that the FAA prepare to assume a greater role in separating aircraft from hazardous weather, including adjusting the functions of air traffic controllers to assist in this effort. As part of this effort, the FAA should work closely with other involved parties (e.g., pilots, owners, and operators of private and commercial aircraft) to ensure that proposed changes are likely to be effective and strike an appropriate balance between safety concerns and efficiency. 2   In June 1994, the OMB canceled Circular A-62, which was the primary federal policy document on the provision of meteorological services and supporting research. The OMB appears to have taken this action without notifying or receiving the concurrence of affected federal agencies and without issuing new guidance in its place. It is not yet clear whether the OMB will replace Circular A-62. 3   See Chapter 6 (page 56). 4   A summary of the Charlotte accident appears immediately following this summary.

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--> User Needs Major Recommendation The FAA should aggressively exercise its responsibility for coordinating user needs and expressing requirements for meteorological services to the NWS.5 The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the NWS properly view the FAA as the government agency with the expertise and experience to represent the interests of the aviation community. In fact, federal law directs the FAA administrator "to make recommendations to the Secretary of Commerce for providing meteorological service necessary for the safe and efficient movement of aircraft in air commerce" (Title 49).6 In 1977, the FAA and NOAA approved a memorandum of agreement that established the following procedure to implement this requirement: "The FAA will continually review aviation weather requirements and the Secretary of Transportation will transmit at least annually to the Secretary of Commerce a letter of recommendations.... NOAA will then have an opportunity to respond to the FAA requirements and take appropriate planning and budgetary actions." Developing a common understanding of aviation weather requirements between the FAA and NOAA is the critical first step in assessing current aviation weather services and in planning improvements. Although the FAA has worked with NOAA and the NWS on an ad hoc basis to develop some aviation-related weather systems, the FAA and Department of Transportation never have produced a formal, comprehensive list of aviation-related requirements for meteorological services in accordance with the 1977 agreement, which remains in effect. Piecemeal generation of these requirements is reflected in an aviation weather system that is similarly fragmented and, at times, unable to respond fully to the valid needs of pilots and other users. The 1977 agreement also sought to improve interagency coordination by establishing high-level aviation weather liaisons between the FAA and NOAA. However, the position of NOAA Special Assistant for Aviation Affairs, which also reported to the FAA Administrator, was eliminated in 1978, and no position of comparable authority now exists within NOAA, the NWS, or the FAA. Complying with existing procedures for interagency coordination of aviation weather requirements would facilitate development of an integrated approach to meeting the needs of aviation weather users. In addition, passing requirements through the Secretary of Transportation, the Secretary of Commerce, and the NOAA Administrator (as specified by the 1977 agreement) would give them the high-level attention they deserve. Nws Roles and Missions Major Recommendation The NWS should continue to meet FAA-determined requirements for weather services as part of its responsibilities for atmospheric observations, analyses, and forecasts.7 The meteorological data collected by the NWS and the weather forecasts and warnings that it generates are essential parts of the aviation weather system. For example, only four U.S. passenger airlines operate their own meteorology departments; the rest depend upon weather forecasts and other products produced by the NWS and private weather services, which use data and information collected and/or generated by the NWS. Even those airlines that maintain their own meteorology departments work in partnership with the NWS to ensure the safety of the flying public. Airlines concentrate their forecasting efforts on their major hub airports; they depend upon NWS forecasts for most destinations. In addition, the NWS provides the FAA with the weather warnings that the FAA uses to alert pilots about dangerous weather conditions. Training Major Recommendation The FAA should provide the leadership needed to develop a comprehensive national training program that improves the practical meteorological skills of users and providers of aviation weather services.8 Aviation weather training for pilots, air traffic controllers, aviation forecasters, flight service specialists, and dispatchers offers great potential for near-term reductions in weather-related accidents. This training is performed by many different public and private organizations. The 5   See Chapter 2 (page 17). 6   The NWS is part of NOAA, which is itself a component of the Department of Commerce. Thus, when discussing the duties and responsibilities of the NWS, some documents refer to the Department of Commerce or NOAA. The implication is that the Secretary of Commerce or the NOAA Administrator will execute weather-related tasks by assigning them, as appropriate, to the NWS. 7   See Chapter 6 (page 57). 8   See Chapter 3 (pages 35–38).

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--> FAA, however, is responsible for establishing standards and licensing procedures for these professionals (except for forecasters, who fall under the jurisdiction of the NWS). Specific options for improving aviation weather education and training include the following: encouraging universities, flight schools, and other training facilities to focus initial and recurrent training of aviation weather users and providers on understanding and optimizing the use of available weather information; revising federal licensing procedures for pilots, controllers, flight service specialists, and dispatchers to test more effectively the abilities of candidates to use weather information in making safe operational decisions regarding the weather; and increasing the emphasis that weather receives during biennial flight reviews, safety seminars, and refresher courses for designated pilot examiners and flight instructors. Dissemination of Graphic Weather Products Major Recommendation The FAA should swiftly exploit current technology to provide consistent and timely graphic weather information to pilots, controllers, and dispatchers.9 The primary unmet user need associated with the current aviation weather system is the lack of widely distributed graphic weather products that would allow pilots, controllers, and dispatchers to develop and maintain a consistent view of current and forecast weather conditions. This situation persists even though current technology could provide this capability. For example, an airline passenger equipped with a laptop computer and a modern can use onboard telephones to obtain up-to-date graphic weather products via Internet or directly from private weather services. In many cases, these products are superior to the weather products that airline pilots can access from the cockpit. Recognizing that commercial systems do not involve the same rigorous flight safety and certification as cockpit communications systems, the committee urges the FAA to take the lead in improving the access of pilots and other users to advanced aviation weather products by fostering advances in three specific areas: graphic weather products; ground-to-air communications and cockpit display systems compatible with graphic weather products; and weather observations and forecasts with enhanced temporal, geographic, and altitude-specific resolution. Research and Development Major Recommendation The FAA should provide the leadership needed to support and focus research and development efforts by government, academic, and industrial institutions on key aviation weather issues.10 A number of individual research and development programs are aimed at improving the accuracy, timeliness, reliability, and relevance of aviation weather information. However, these programs are not adequately integrated with each other or with operational programs, and they suffer from funding uncertainties and lack of commitment by the government. The absence of clear priorities is a serious difficulty, one that is puzzling in view of the clarity with which the aviation community has repeatedly expressed its needs for improvements. The committee concurs with an earlier recommendation by the National Research Council that the FAA and NWS should "develop an integrated program description specifying the objectives, strategies, schedule, phasing, and budgets to guide the ... development of a significantly improved [aviation] weather system" (NRC, 1994). Moreover, the committee urges the FAA to provide the leadership to respond to a recommendation by the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology that federal agencies develop an interagency plan for aviation weather research and development that will meet the following criteria: Encourage greater interagency coordination of research and development. Accelerate the transfer of research and development technology to operational use. Define needs for aviation weather observations, forecasting, dissemination, and preparation of weather products. Define the responsibilities of individual agencies for conducting research and development projects that fulfill these needs. 9   See Chapter 3 (pages 38 and 39). 10   See Chapter 4 (pages 45 and 46).

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--> Many of the most significant weather hazards for aviation involve the various phases or changes in phases of water. Observations of atmospheric water vapor with greatly improved coverage, resolution, and accuracy would enable dramatic improvements in forecasts of thunderstorms; other convective activity; and cloud variables, such as ceiling height, cloud type, and icing potential. This committee concurs with other advisory groups, such as the National Research Council's National Weather Service Modernization Committee and an interagency panel convened by the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology, that have recommended increasing the priority for developing an effective system for high-resolution observations of atmospheric water vapor. A strong program of aviation weather research, with specific priorities based on user needs, would contribute markedly to enhanced safety and efficiency of flight. In order for the federal government to meet its manifest responsibility to provide required aviation weather information for aviation and air travelers, it must manage such research creatively, responsibly, and effectively. Regional Requirements Major Recommendation The FAA should provide the leadership to meet regional needs for aviation weather services with regional solutions.11 Some geographic regions of the United States have environmental conditions and user needs that vary significantly from national norms in geographic density of weather observing sites, topography, availability of surface transportation, and other factors. These factors often reinforce each other. For example, mountainous regions generally have a high level of local weather variability, a low density of weather observing sites, and a sparse or nonexistent road network. This is particularly true in Alaska. The federal system for providing aviation weather services is based on conditions and needs that prevail in much of the nation. In addition, funding constraints limit the resources that federal agencies can devote to meeting the aviation weather needs of regions with special environmental conditions. As a result, the federal aviation weather system, in some cases, does not fully respond to localized needs. The FAA has a key role to play in meeting regional needs. Directly or indirectly, the FAA provides many aviation weather services, and it regulates the use of weather information by pilots, controllers, and dispatchers. Accordingly, the FAA should take the lead in finding the means to meet special regional needs for aviation weather services. For each region with special needs, the FAA should establish a team that includes other responsible federal and state government agencies, the local aviation industry, airport operators, professional organizations, and local communities to identify, assess, and properly respond to these needs. The FAA should also seek appropriate statutory and regulatory variances. The First Step Major Recommendation The federal government should place a high priority on reaffirming and reinforcing the leadership role of the FAA and the supporting roles of other agencies.12 This report contains a variety of recommendations for increasing aviation safety and efficiency by improving the federal government's ability to satisfy the needs of aviation weather users. As noted, the recommendation for the FAA to assume a strong leadership role forms the foundation for all of the committee's other recommendations. This approach may seem simplistic, but it reflects the uncomplicated nature of the key shortcoming in the U.S. aviation weather system. The current system suffers primarily from a lack of coordination and focus. Strong leadership is needed to put in place a vigorous process for evaluating and implementing alternatives for improving the aviation weather system. Without this leadership, actions that could dramatically improve aviation weather services and related research are not likely to take place in a timely fashion, if at all. As a first step in achieving these improvements, the committee suggests the following timeline: Within 3 months of the release of this report, the FAA should implement the committee's recommendation to designate an associate administrator to assume overall responsibility for carrying out the FAA's lead agency role.13 Within 6 months, the executive branch should replace OMB Circular A-62, which has been rescinded without replacement, by issuing "policy guidelines and procedures for planning and conducting Federal meteorological services and applied research and 11   See Chapter 5 (pages 50 and 51). 12   See Chapter 7 (page 61). 13   See Chapter 6 (page 56).

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--> development to improve such services" (OMB Circular A-62).14 Within 9 months, the FAA and NOAA/NWS should comply with their existing memorandum of agreement regarding the provision of aviation weather services, or they should implement a new agreement.15 Within 12 months, with the assistance of the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology, the FAA should prepare a definitive 5-year integrated plan specifying the objectives, strategies, schedule, phasing, and budgets needed to achieve an improved aviation weather system. This plan should be developed with inputs from other government agencies and the user community. References NRC (National Research Council). 1994. Weather for Those Who Fly. National Weather Service Modernization Committee, NRC. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. OFCM (Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology). 1992. National Aviation Weather Program Plan. Washington, D.C.: OFCM. OMB (Office of Management and Budget) Circular A-62, November 13, 1963. Salottolo, G. 1994. Presentation by Greg Salottolo, National Transportation Safety Board, to the National Aviation Weather Services Committee, at the National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C., September 1, 1994. 14   See Chapter 2 (page 16) and Appendix D (page 78). 15   See Chapter 2 (pages 16–19).

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--> Usair Flight 1016—A Summary of the National Transportation Safety Board's Final Report On the evening of July 2, 1994, USAir flight 1016 crashed during approach to Charlotte/Douglas International Airport. This accident illustrates the direct impact that the aviation weather system can have on the flying public. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation generated 16 recommendations for the FAA, NWS, and USAir. These recommendations focus on the need for (1) more accurate observations and forecasts of hazardous weather conditions, (2) more timely and complete dissemination of hazardous weather information from meteorologists to air traffic controllers and from air traffic controllers to pilots, and (3) improved pilot training programs that increase the ability of pilots to quickly recognize and properly respond to hazardous weather that they encounter. These recommendations are consistent with the key recommendations of the Committee on National Aviation Weather Services, as documented in this report. Chronology During the approach, the captain and first officer discussed the poor weather conditions with each other and with the approach controller. The captain and first officer also discussed the possibility of having to abort the landing because of the weather. At 6:39 p.m., the captain of USAir flight 806, who was ready to take off, advised the tower controller that he would hold because of "a storm right on top of the field." About 30 seconds later, the tower controller cleared flight 1016 to land. The captain of flight 1016, who could see rain adjacent to the airport, immediately asked the tower for a report from the plane that had just landed ahead of him. At 6:40 p.m., the tower controller reported that the previous aircraft had experienced a "smooth ride." Flight 1016 was less than 4 miles from the runway. At 6:41 p.m., the tower controller broadcast a windshear alert and cleared another aircraft to land behind flight 1016.1 At this time, USAir flight 797 was ready to take off behind flight 806. The tower controller asked the captain of flight 797 if he wanted to move ahead of flight 806 and take off. The captain of flight 797 responded that he, too, would hold on the ground. Flight 1016 was less than 2 miles from the runway. At 6:42 p.m., just a few seconds after flight 1016 encountered rain that sharply decreased visibility, the captain ordered his first officer to initiate a missed approach. The captain and first officer did not yet recognize that they had encountered severe windshear (i.e., a microburst) bemuse (1) the aircraft did not experience turbulence typical of windshear and (2) the aircraft's windshear warning system had not alarmed. Subsequent analysis indicated that flight 1016 encountered windshear of 61 knots. Seventeen seconds after initiating the missed approach, flight 1016 hit the ground. Airspeed at the time of impact was 150 knots. The captain and one flight attendant received minor injuries. The first officer, 2 flight attendants, and 15 passengers received serious injuries. The remaining 37 passengers died. Causes The NTSB determined that the probable causes of this accident were as follows: The flightcrew's decision to continue an approach into severe convective activity that was conducive to a microburst. The flightcrew's failure to recognize a windshear situation in a timely manner. The flightcrew's failure to establish and maintain the proper airplane attitude and thrust setting necessary to escape the windshear. The lack of real-time adverse weather and windshear hazard information dissemination from air traffic control. The NTSB identified the following contributing factors: The lack of air traffic control procedures that would have required the controller to display and issue ASR-9 radar weather information to the pilots of flight 1016. The Charlotte tower supervisor's failure to properly advise and ensure that all controllers were aware of and reporting the reduction in visibility and runway visual range and the low level windshear alerts that had occurred in multiple quadrants. The inadequate remedial actions by USAir to ensure adherence to standard operating procedures. The inadequate software logic in the airplane's windshear warning system (which delays warnings when flaps are in motion) that did not provide an alert upon entry into the windshear. Source: NTSB, Abstract of Final Report—USAir Flight 1016, NTSB Public Meeting, April 4, 1995. 1   Windshear involves a sudden shift in wind speed and direction. When aircraft are operating at low speed and altitude (i.e., shortly before landing and after take off), windshear can severely alter aircraft performance. The FAA and air carriers have invested heavily in windshear detection and avoidance systems to reduce the hazard posed by windshear. For example, the FAA has developed the Low Level Windshear Alert System and Terminal Doppler Weather Radar (TDWR) to improve the ability, of air traffic controllers at airports to detect windshear and warn pilots. A TDWR system would nave been operational at the Charlotte airport prior to the crash of flight 1316 if the FAA had installed it on schedule. However, installation of the Charlotte TDWR was delayed when the FAA experienced unexpected problems in acquiring land for the proposed site.

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