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ENVIRONMENT Last modified on December 25, 2012

Avoiding the turbulance: The benefits to airports of accurate weather forecasting

The UK Met Office’s aviation business manager, David Gibbs, considers the operational and financial benefits to airports of accurate weather forecasting.
Relevant and timely meteorological information, forecasts and advice are vital for the aviation industry, enabling operators to make cost effective decisions that keep flights on schedule, airports operational and the skies safe.

Winter is a challenging time for airport and airline operations, disruption due to winter weather can put a strain on schedules through delayed and diverted aircraft, and causing inconvenience to passengers and staff resourcing. 

Receiving the best weather information for destinations and departures gives confidence to make critical decisions on operations such as diversions, aircraft and runway anti-and de-icing and mitigating for potential delays and associated increased costs.

As we enter the winter season in Europe, Met Office forecasters in the UK will be looking increasingly at weather such as fog, frost, ice and snow.

All of these weather phenomena can pose difficult forecasting situations, and the forecasters’ aim is to help minimise the impacts in advance of and during extreme weather conditions. 

Forecasters will be advising customers, helping to maintain ice and snow free runways and aiding the on-time departure of aircraft with advice about aircraft icing.

And it isn’t just the big airports that reap the rewards of accurate forecasting, of course, as tiny Newquay Airport in the UK demonstrated during the winter of 2010/11, when it saved €25,000 by using 50% less de-icing fluid than the previous year.

At the opposite end of the scale in terms of airport size, Heathrow certainly has no doubt about the value of good weather information. So much so, in fact, that it has its own dedicated Met Office forecaster on-site.

“With a dedicated Met Office forecaster on-site delivering localised forecasts, we are able to minimise delays associated with adverse weather conditions,” says Clive Exton, a duty manager airside with Heathrow’s Airside Safety Department.

“During winter, the forecasts give us confidence to plan our anti-icing activity with greater accuracy, reducing the amount of fluid we use and saving money in the process.”

With over 476,000 aircraft movements and 69 million passengers passing through it every year – the bulk of them to destinations overseas – Heathrow is the world’s busiest international gateway.

And like other busy hubs, it is more than aware of the knock-on effects of flights delays for transiting passengers – both locally and around the globe.

In the circumstances, the latest and most detailed weather forecasts are essential to facilitate better-informed decision making, improved resource planning and minimise the disruption and delays caused by weather.

The Met Office helps BAA have one consistent message about the weather, with the concentration of its efforts being on how the weather will affect Heathrow, and communicating this information, consistently, across the airport community. 

This aids collaborative decision-making across all users, including airside, landside and airlines. 

The continued growth in air traffic volume and demands for increased airfield and airspace capacity means the proactive use of accurate weather information has never been more important for airlines and airports to help mitigate weather-related delays and to ensure capacity is maximised.

The role of meteorological providers is to constantly evolve to best meet and assist with the latest challenges and developments in the industry, and to bring the benefits of our most advanced science and technology to the aviation sector.

Current R&D projects include science research into enhanced forecasting of thunderstorms and lightning, fog and wind shear, whilst our technological focus is on delivering enhanced mobile weather information. 

For airport airside operations teams, accessing tailored guidance via a tablet device will enable them to have the latest weather information anywhere on the airfield.

Planning for future challenges is how the industry stays one step ahead. The Met Office is no longer thinking just about tomorrow, but also about the long-term impact of climate change and the potential effects of this on the weather that affects airport operations.

Weather watch
For more information about the Met Office and its services, please visit www.metoffice.gov.uk/aviation

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