[Avionics Today 02-03-2016] Commercial, business and general aviation operators are increasingly adopting new innovative technologies to enhance the ability of pilots flying their aircraft to monitor severe weather and turbulence in real time. Some of the latest technology being used have also been adopted with cost in mind, as more options are becoming available to airlines and other major fleet operators that do not require changes to an aircraft's cockpit avionics systems, software or hardware.
4D Flight Route Alerting. Photo: Schneider Electric.
One of the biggest challenges faced by operators across all aviation segments is trying to make quick and reliable decisions in determining how and when a specific weather condition will impact a flight. 4D Flight Route Alerting, a new solution from Schneider Electric, provides in-flight alerts to pilots and flight dispatchers with information on altitude, position and time components to help aircraft avoid heavy patches of turbulence or areas of severe weather. Launched in July 2015, Schneider has already seen major interest in the technology from airlines, corporate aviation operators and helicopter operations, and is planning further expansion of the solution's capabilities and integration into Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) applications and more this year.
"We already have over 5,000 aircraft and helicopters actively using our system after only seven months of operation and we expect that to double by this time next year, just to give you an idea of how the market is reacting to the concept of more efficient and safer flights. We also currently process over 100,000 flight plans per day," John Thivierge, director of aviation weather services at Schneider Electric told Avionics Magazine.
Schneider operates a 24/7 meteorology center in Minneapolis, Minn., where more than 100 meteorologists monitor 70 different weather feeds from national weather service organizations across the world to produce a geospatial database to provide weather alerting services to aviation operators as well as companies in other markets, such as energy and other forms of transportation. Operators using Schneider's 4D Flight Route Alerting technology provide Schneider with their flight plan up to 36 hours prior to the scheduled flight time, and then receive alerts about that flight prior to take off as well as throughout the flight time.
"Until now, it was almost impossible to determine if weather as far out as 36 hours would impact flights, so operators would plan flights with limited weather information and adjust as needed. This adds extra costs and risks that could have serious consequences. They now simply provide us their flight route, from origin to destination, or in the case of helicopters customers, all of their flight legs with all of the weather that they are concerned about. For example, if they are worried about turbulence, icing, ceilings, visibility, thunderstorms, radar or any other weather criteria, they pass that along with their flight plan and the thresholds applicable to each type of aircraft or flight segment. So, a helicopter operator may want to know if there’s ceilings below 2,000 feet anywhere along their flight path or at any landing area, or an aircraft customer may be concerned about severe turbulence. We’ll monitor that for them," said Thivierge.
Several recent incidents involving airliner aircraft experiencing severe turbulence provide examples of the effectiveness of using technology that allows pilots to avoid turbulence and bad weather. For example, American Airlines Flight 1410 on Jan. 15, 2016 featured a Boeing 737-800 that encountered severe turbulence at around 34,000 feet above Vero Beach, Fla., resulting in five passenger injuries and a flight attendant transferred to a local hospital for further injury evaluation. In late December, Air Canada flight AC088, a Boeing 777-300ER flying from China to Toronto, lead to the flight being diverted to Calgary and resulted in 13 passengers being hospitalized for observation.
Thivierge says a major differentiator for Schneider is that its service is agnostic to aircraft avionics hardware and software.
"No specific equipment is required on their aircraft to take advantage of real-time weather alerts to their crews, we use what is available, our solution works with both SITA and ARINC data link service providers as well as Iridium and Inmarsat satellite providers using existing communications links. If our customers use lower bandwidth solutions like VHF, [VHF Data Link] VDL or Iridium links, those could simply be text-based alerts. For those who have higher speed connections can also receive graphical weather to help mitigate the weather issue," he said.
Currently Schneider is working with EFB app providers such as ForeFlight and flight-following software providers such as FlightAware on ways to integrate its technology into their applications that are already widely in use by commercial, business and general aviation operators.
“We’re currently working with several best-in-class solution providers in the flight planning, flight following and EFB arenas to provide direct access to our Flight Route Alerting platform to allow our customers to seamlessly integrate our weather alerts directly into their existing solutions to provide quick [Return on Investment] ROI," said Thivierge.