in Technology / Features

SAA keeps a weather eye open to save millions

Posted 3 November 2017 · Add Comment

South African Airlines (SAA) has been making good use of a system run by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) to better understand and predict weather in the region. Steve Nichols reports.

SAA says it has saved between two and three million US dollars in fuel over a one-year period by enabling better route planning using WMO aircraft meteorological data relay (AMDAR) data.
The AMDAR observing system started around 30 years ago and has grown to involve 40 airlines and more than 4,000 aircraft worldwide.
It uses aircraft on-board sensors, computers and communications systems to collect, process and transmit meteorological data to ground stations via satellite or radio links.
A special AMDAR software module is installed in the appropriate aircraft avionics that enables data acquisition and initial data quality checks. The measurements are compiled into a standard message format (AEEC, ARINC 620).
The weather data allow pilots to choose a flight level that avoids flying into heavy winds. Crew are also able to update their flight plans at the last minute using up-to-date weather information.
Gaborekwe Khambule, senior manager, South Africa Aeronautical Meteorological Service (SAWS), said: “We entered a pilot project with AMDAR in 2004 and this has matured into a full programme for upper air observation.
“The use of AMDAR is critical for the reduction of errors in our numerical weather prediction (NWP) forecast models. The more AMDAR observation data you feed into the prediction models, the better the output or performance in terms of accuracy.
“Research has shown that AMDAR observations generally improve forecasting skill and accuracy in NWP by contributing to 15-20% of the total error reduction attained from all observing systems.
“The South African Weather Service is pleased to see the Africa AMDAR regional implementation plan now taking shape following the first workshop that took place in Nairobi in June 2016.”
Khambule added that having more airlines contributing in the region would be advantageous as SAA doesn’t fly everywhere on the continent.
So what about future AMDAR expansion with SAA?
Kobus Olivier, senior aeronautical officer, SAA, said: “We can only provide the AMDAR data for as long as it is utilising Airbus aircraft. Expansion will only happen if the fleet increases, but under the current financial conditions it looks like some of the Airbus aircraft will leave SAA service.”
The European E-AMDAR programme is also providing data from visiting E-AMDAR aircraft from Air France, British Airways and Lufthansa. This data is supplementing the SAA network over northern, central and eastern African regions, including the Indian Ocean.
Stewart Taylor, WMO senior operational meteorologist and WMO AMDAR development officer, said: “ACARS links have been the mainstay of the in-flight data gathering, but WMO is looking at what is possible with next-gen satcom/broadband technology.
“ACARS will be around for some time, but we are looking at what will be available with satcom/broadband technology, such as IP downlinks, electronic flight bag (EFB) and satcom-based ADS-B.”
Once on the ground, the AMDAR data is relayed to National Meteorological and Hydrological Services, where it is processed, quality controlled and transmitted on the WMO global telecommunications system (GTS).
“While AMDAR has been around for more than a couple of decades, many airlines are still unaware of it or the benefits it can bring through improved weather information and, as a result, more efficient flight operations. This is where WMO outreach and promotion is assisting with the goals of the global expansion of AMDAR and data gathering in remote areas.”
The WMO global AMDAR system currently produces more than 700,000 high-quality observations per day. These include air temperature, wind speed and direction, together with the required positional and temporal information and an increasing number of humidity and turbulence measurements.
The data collected is used for a range of meteorological applications, including public weather forecasting, climate monitoring and prediction, early warning systems for weather hazards and, importantly, weather monitoring and prediction in support of the aviation industry.
A recent report on its use concluded that the current AMDAR observations provided by the participating airlines benefits the air transport industry greatly.
Benefits in the flight-planning phase, from increased forecast accuracy, enables optimisation of the fuel load prior to take-off and triggers significant fuel-burn savings during the flight.
In the air, flight crews can optimise their flying parameters using updated forecasts and actual weather observations made available through AMDAR validation and correction. Major savings can come from disruption avoidance, made possible by more accurate weather forecasts.
These cost reductions will increase in the future because most of these disruptions are a consequence of snow, freezing rain, fog and thunderstorms, which can all be better forecast with the progressive inclusion of water vapour measurements from AMDAR.
This recent report says that, through the availability and use of AMDAR data, a potential, tangible fuel saving of $10 million per annum is realisable for a typical large airline participating in the programme.
In addition to fuel savings, safety improvements, especially from the prediction of turbulence and other potentially dangerous weather phenomena, should also result from improved forecasting.
Earlier this year, the WMO held talks and entered into a new working arrangement with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) on the future operation of the global AMDAR system.
WMO secretary-general, Petteri Taalas, met IATA director general, Alexandre de Juniac, to discuss how IATA’s 265 airlines in more than 117 countries can best contribute to AMDAR’s data-gathering system.
IATA can help to expand and improve the operation of the AMDAR programme while WMO can help to ensure that data owned by airline partners is better secured.
WMO also signed an agreement with the International Civil Aviation Organization in April to work more closely together. WMO is also encouraging the integration of a humidity sensor with any new airline implementing AMDAR, and the collaboration with IATA/WMO has identified this as a development item, along with turbulence reporting.
As a result of the success of the South Africa AMDAR programme, WMO is in discussion with Royal Air Maroc and Kenya Airways to look at further expansion of the AMDAR system within Africa.
 

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