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Airborne Weather Report
08.19.04
picture of airplane on runway with tornado in background
There's an old saying that goes, "Everyone complains about the weather, but no one does anything about it." But, NASA is working to change that. While the agency cannot actually change the weather, it can reduce some of the complaints the weather causes. And, the weather causes plenty of complaints in the field of aviation.

Image to left: Weather is a factor in a large number of aviation accidents. Credit: NASA

Weather is a factor in almost a third of aviation accidents. Many of those accidents are caused by a lack of awareness about weather conditions. However, some are caused by poor decisions regarding flying in the weather. Weather is responsible for about two-thirds of air traffic delays. These delays cost the industry $4 billion, nearly half of which is considered avoidable. As part of its Aviation Safety and Security Program, NASA started a Weather Accident Prevention Project. This project was created to reduce the adverse effects of weather on flight.

picture of a cockpit display
Image to right: AWIN will help pilots avoid dangerous conditions. Credit: NASA

One part of this program is the Aviation Weather Information (AWIN) project. NASA's goal is for AWIN to provide improved weather information to pilots during flight to help them avoid hazardous conditions. The project consists of two parts. One, establish an infrastructure to maintain current weather information for air traffic. Two, create a way for pilots to access that information while in flight. Systems that just provide raw weather data could cause the user to miss vital information. AWIN is intended to make sure that pilots and others learn exactly what they need to know. It also promotes better use of this information. Without AWIN, this information can be difficult for pilots to obtain and use while in flight. It also generally comes in spoken form, making it more difficult to integrate with the visual data a pilot has. Furthermore, that information is usually given to pilots either in preflight briefings or in occasional radio updates. A constant flow of current weather information is simply not available.

AWIN will provide pilots with a cockpit display of graphical weather information. The system will use that data with other geographic information. Weather updates in the form of text messages and graphic depictions will be available to pilots in flight. This allows pilots to see exactly what the current conditions are. They receive weather observations, forecasts, and warnings. They can also send and receive automated reports about the conditions they are experiencing. The benefits of having this information would be two-fold. One, it would keep aircraft crews and passengers safer by helping them to avoid dangerous conditions. Two, it would make air travel more efficient. It allows pilots to plot the shortest course to their destination, avoiding hazardous conditions. Currently, pilots often have to fly farther off course than is necessary, not knowing where the unsafe conditions are.

AWIN logo
AWIN could be broadcast to airplanes through ground stations or satellites. The visual information could also be aided by alert sounds or recorded voice warnings. The AWIN network would be a two-way exchange. Aircraft receive weather information from ground stations. They also transmit information from their sensors about their surroundings. The data from the aircraft are used to improve the accuracy and reliability of aviation weather forecasts and reports.

Image to left: Aviation Weather Information will be incredibly helpful to pilots. Credit: NASA

AWIN is just one part of NASA's program designed to make flight safer for everyone. While nobody can prevent hazardous weather conditions, there are ways to reduce those hazards. Thanks to NASA technologies, pilot awareness of the weather around them should improve. This will aid them in making decisions to safely and efficiently avoid potentially dangerous conditions.

Published by NASAexplores