4
Research And Development

The FAA should provide the leadership need to support and focus research and development efforts by government, academic, and commercial institutions on key avitation weather issues.

The aim of aviation weather research programs is to improve the accuracy, timeliness, reliability, and relevance of weather information provided to the aviation community. The scientific knowledge and technology exist today to produce dramatic improvements in the quality and formats of weather information for aviation and thus contribute markedly to increased safety and efficiency. As discussed below, a number of individual projects and programs are aimed at important issues opportunities. However, they are not adequately integrated and suffer from funding uncertainties. Leadership and commitment are required to organize the diverse components of the research program and focus them on achieving an effective system for the future.

Advances in aviation weather services start with identification of a hazard, user need, or scientific opportunity. Through improved analysis of existing observations, improved observations, or field observational studies aimed at specific phenomena, a conceptual foundation for new observation, analysis, or forecasting systems is developed. Often this phase involves basic or fundamental research that creates the potential or opportunity for development of new operational procedures or systems. Further work to focus on aviation impact variables and dissemination capabilities is often required to obtain the full benefit of the new understanding or observational capabilities.1 The manner in which the government currently implements this process is shown in Figure 4-1.

A new aviation weather system that would better meet the needs of pilots, controllers, dispatchers and other users has been envisioned in both Weather for

1  

Aviation impact variables are meteorological parameters, such as ceiling, visibility, turbulence, and icing, that are important to flight operations. They are of greatest value when summarized in the form of aviation decision aids, which may be visualizations, graphical representations, or recommendations that support the decision process.

Figure 4-1

Aviation product development and implementation process. (Source: Friday, 1995)



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--> 4 Research And Development The FAA should provide the leadership need to support and focus research and development efforts by government, academic, and commercial institutions on key avitation weather issues. The aim of aviation weather research programs is to improve the accuracy, timeliness, reliability, and relevance of weather information provided to the aviation community. The scientific knowledge and technology exist today to produce dramatic improvements in the quality and formats of weather information for aviation and thus contribute markedly to increased safety and efficiency. As discussed below, a number of individual projects and programs are aimed at important issues opportunities. However, they are not adequately integrated and suffer from funding uncertainties. Leadership and commitment are required to organize the diverse components of the research program and focus them on achieving an effective system for the future. Advances in aviation weather services start with identification of a hazard, user need, or scientific opportunity. Through improved analysis of existing observations, improved observations, or field observational studies aimed at specific phenomena, a conceptual foundation for new observation, analysis, or forecasting systems is developed. Often this phase involves basic or fundamental research that creates the potential or opportunity for development of new operational procedures or systems. Further work to focus on aviation impact variables and dissemination capabilities is often required to obtain the full benefit of the new understanding or observational capabilities.1 The manner in which the government currently implements this process is shown in Figure 4-1. A new aviation weather system that would better meet the needs of pilots, controllers, dispatchers and other users has been envisioned in both Weather for 1   Aviation impact variables are meteorological parameters, such as ceiling, visibility, turbulence, and icing, that are important to flight operations. They are of greatest value when summarized in the form of aviation decision aids, which may be visualizations, graphical representations, or recommendations that support the decision process. Figure 4-1 Aviation product development and implementation process. (Source: Friday, 1995)

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--> Those Who Fly (NRC, 1994) and The Aviation Weather System (FAA, 1994b). The committee iaaa prepared the summary of this vision that appears in the boxed insert. Such a system would address many of the problems that exist today. The Vision of an Improved Aviation Weather System An improved weather information system that could be available in the near future would allow pilots, controllers, dispatchers, and flight service specialists to access interactive, three-dimensional visualizations of critical aviation impact variables and decision aids that are specific to route, altitude, and decision aids that are specific to route, altitude, and aircraft type and that, in some cases, present alternate routes or altitudes for avoiding adverse weather. A critical feature of this system would be the capability for pilots and controllers to view the same information simultaneously and, when necessary, to communicate about avoidance strategies without having to discuss the weather because both parties would have the same accurate, timely, and relevant information. This vision includes the following components: higher-resolution and more-accurate observations of key atmospheric variables made possible by the modernization of the NWS, including the new WSR-88D Doppler radars now being installed, and by further improvements in observational capability; higher-resolution computer analyses and forecasts, including the new Aviation Gridded Forecast System, to produce detailed information of interest to aviation; visualizations of these results transformed into aviation impact variables and decision aids by a suite of computer routines known as the Advanced Weather Products Generator (the recent decision by the FAA to cancel the Advanced Weather Products Generator jeopardizes this element of the vision); similar summaries of critical conditions in terminal areas created by the Integrated Terminal Weather System; and communications capabilities to make these products available to pilots (on the ground and in the air) and to controllers, dispatchers, and flight service specialists. Federal Planning A comprehensive, long-term research and development program should achieve an appropriate balance between research in support of long-term needs and engineering and technology development in support of near-term acquisition of new operational systems. Most research related to aviation weather is funded by the FAA, including virtually all of the aviation weather research performed by NOAA and the NWS. However, the FAA designates only about 1 percent of its research, development, and engineering budget for weather-related research. Most of the FAA's aviation weather research and development activities are actually funded by the FAA'a much larger facilities and equipment budget, which is focus on near-term acquisition of new systems. Planned reductions in FAA funding for aviation weather research at key government laboratories and universities associated with ongoing research projects will eliminate some research programs and greatly curtail others. Although private industry conducts some research and development, private-sector development is often dependent upon the longer-range research and development that the FAA supports. In addition, the private sector tends to focus on projects that have the potential to produce a near-term competitive advantage. As a result of these factors, most aviation weather research within government and industry is currently focused on technology transfer and product demonstration efforts, and there is less ongoing research than in the recent past. Continued emphasis on product demonstration and technology transfer without the corresponding support of long-term scientific research and concept development will ultimately diminish the ability to develop new systems. Finding: It is the proper role of government to develop, fund, and execute a research plan in aviation weather just as it does in many other areas involving the public good. Recommendation: The federal government should make a long-term commitment to aviation weather research as an investment in the future safety and efficiency of aviation. Research Organizations Essentially all of the research and development required to implement the vision described above and to provide other improvements in aviation weather services is supported financially by the FAA. The FAA works with the National Science Foundation to sponsor aviation weather research by the National Center for Atmospheric

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--> Research (NCAR) and three university groups. The FAA also provides funding directly to NOAA's Forecast Systems Laboratory (FSL), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory, and the MITRE Corporation. In addition, NASA and DoD sponsor research and development activities related to aviation weather. Some of this work is aimed at common goals and coordinated to some degree; other parts of the effort are pursued somewhat independently. (See Appendix H, page 93, for additional information on the aviation weather research associated with these organizations.) The committee has been unable to identify comprehensive mechanisms or procedures now used to coordinate aviation weather research and development efforts by the above organizations. The coordination of FAA, NWS, and FSL efforts is performed at the level of program managers. The NCAR and university efforts are coordinated by the National Science Foundation and the FAA, but current programs are being devastated by funding cuts, and there is little opportunity for researchers with good ideas and potentially important contributions to seek new funding. Planning Documents The current aviation weather research and development program is described in the following federal planning documents: The National Aviation Weather Program Plan (OFCM, 1992); U.S. Weather Research Program (USWRP) Implementation Plan (USWRP, 1994); FAA Strategic Plan (FAA, 1994c); and 1994 FAA Plan for Research, Engineering and Development (FAA, 1994a). A brief summary of each of these documents appears in Appendix H (page 93). Planning and Coordination There are numerous planning and coordination groups associated with aviation weather research and development. These include the OFCM (Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology), which operates a number of focused interagency committees; the USWRP program office; the FAA's Research, Engineering, and Development Advisory Committee; and the FAA-NASA Coordinating Committee. Although these groups seem to facilitate the exchange of information among agencies, the committee has not observed that these groups are effective in providing top-level coordination of aviation weather research and development. Multiagency Planning and Coordination The committee agrees with the assessment in Weather for Those Who Fly that "there is no single, integrated plan specifying the objectives, strategies, schedule, phasing, and budgets to guide the NWS and FAA in achieving the improved aviation weather system envisioned by both agencies" (NRC, 1994). The need for better coordination and planning is also documented in the National Aviation Weather Program Plan (OFCM, 1992), which recommended that the federal government develop a separate interagency plan that would accomplish the following: 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. Development and execution of plans such as those recommended by the National Research Council and OFCM should include non-government users (e.g., pilots and dispatchers), as well as the operational elements of federal agencies (e.g., controllers and forecasters), to enhance their effectiveness in developing technological solutions that meet user needs and can be quickly integrated into operational systems. The committee views the DoD as a major player in the collection and dissemination of aviation weather information. However, there is not an effective mechanism for the FAA to advise the DoD of its aviation weather requirements or for the DoD to articulate how its capabilities could enhance the ability of the FAA to meet those requirements. This shortcoming could be addressed as part of a broad effort to improve multiagency planning and coordination.2 Recommendation: The FAA should take the lead in implementing the OFCM's recommendation to develop an interagency plan for aviation weather research and development. 2   DoD roles and missions are addressed further in Chapter 6 (page 58).

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--> Bilateral Planning and Coordination: FAA and NOAA Coordination of bilateral efforts involving the FAA and NOAA is discussed in Chapter 2 (pages 16–19), which concludes that high-level coordination mechanisms for developing and operating aviation weather systems are not as effective as they should be. Bilateral Planning and Coordination: FAA and NASA Coordination of bilateral efforts involving the FAA and NASA is supported by field offices that the FAA maintains at two NASA research centers. In addition, NASA and the FAA have established the FAA-NASA Coordinating Committee to provide a means for coordinating interagency research activities. Nonetheless, it seems that planning of aviation weather research projects by the FAA and NASA proceed somewhat independently: NASA is rarely mentioned in the weather sections of the federal aviation planning documents obtained by the committee, and the FSL, which conducts a great deal of aviation weather research for the FAA, has minimal interaction with NASA. NASA usually initiates aeronautical research in response to industry inputs rather than FAA requirements. In addition, the FAA does not include NASA in its long-range planning process (GAO, 1993). Furthermore, the FAA-NASA Coordinating Committee does not provide top-level planning and coordination of interagency research programs. Rather, program managers within the FAA and NASA who desire to engage in a cooperative effort draft a memorandum of understanding that they can then bring to the coordinating committee for approval. This bottom-up approach provides a formal process that program managers can use to coordinate individual projects, but it does not by itself provide the focus and direction that a top-down approach would provide (GAO, 1993). In addition, interagency friction can develop if NASA does not exercise the coordinating committee process for new research programs that the FAA perceives as falling within its purview. Planning and Coordination Within the FAA Responsibility for aviation weather is fragmented within the FAA. Chapter 6 (pages 55 and 56) discusses this issue and recommends an approach for addressing it. There are no more than three or four professional meteorologists assigned to FAA headquarters, and there are no positions for meteorologists at the FAA's regional offices. This lack of internal meteorological expertise at the FAA is exacerbated by the absence of an effective external mechanism to advise the FAA regarding aviation weather operations and research. The FAA Research, Engineering and Development Advisory Committee, as presently constituted, does not satisfy this need. Recommendation: The FAA should augment its meteorological expertise to enhance its ability to plan and implement effective aviation weather services. Longer-Term Research Priorities Observations of atmospheric phenomena and variables are the lifeblood of an effective aviation weather information system. A comprehensive analysis of the plans and opportunities for weather observations that would contribute to improved aviation weather services was provided by the National Research Council in Weather for Those Who Fly. In addition to recommending that the schedule for the modernization of the NWS be maintained, the National Research Council urged that several new initiatives be pursued by the federal government, including the development of a network of Doppler radar wind profilers and an improved and modem radiosonde network. This committee endorses those recommendations. Many of the most significant weather hazards to aviation involve the various phases or changes in phase of water. As reported in Weather for Those Who Fly, observations of atmospheric water vapor with greatly improved coverage, resolution, and accuracy would enable dramatic improvements in forecasts of convective activity; cloud variables, such as ceiling height and cloud type; and icing potential. This committee concurs that the rapid development of an effective system for high-resolution observations of atmospheric water vapor should be given high priority. Other groups have also considered the imperatives for improving aviation weather services and related research. An interagency panel convened by the OFCM recently developed a National Agenda for Meteorological Services and Supporting Research (OFCM, 1995), which includes improved aviation weather services as 1 of 10 key focus areas. The Agenda points out that it is ''critical to improve the resolution and accuracy of weather observations," in part by developing a "mixed network of Doppler wind profilers and modern radiosonde systems as well as further instrumentation of the civil aviation fleet," and it cited "obtaining accurate observations of water vapor over space and time scales significant to aviation'' as the "biggest challenge." That panel also pointed out that computer systems capable of assimilating "thousands of times more observations" are essential

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--> to "form a high-resolution picture of the atmosphere worldwide" in order to provide "high accuracy, high-resolution, short-term forecasts for aviation." A longer-term view was taken by the first Prospectus Development Team (PDT) of the U.S. Weather Research Program. Its report identified high-priority basic research opportunities pertinent to improved weather prediction and warning, and it cited the need for improved observations required to address a variety of forecast problems, including those related to aviation weather (USWRP, 1995). The report included the following recommendations: "High priority must be given to new water vapor measurements and to research that seeks to delineate the water vapor observations necessary to address specific forecast problems...." "Substantial improvements [must be made] in our ability to make in-situ measurements in clouds in the upper troposphere" in order to better understand cloud physical processes involving ice at high altitudes. The PDT emphasized that "the most difficult aspect of providing aviation guidance is [generating] accurate short-term (0-to 6-hour) terminal and en route forecasts of aviation-sensitive weather parameters such as ceiling, visibility, icing, wind, windshear, and turbulence.... Such forecasts must come from deterministic high-resolution (Δx ▯ 10 km) numerical models" and then be subject to statistical post-processing to remove model biases, account for small-scale effects, and present the results in a probabilistic format that enhances aviation safety and efficiency. The PDT concludes that achieving these objectives will require research and advances in several major areas, including the following: improved representations of the physical processes governing the distribution of water substance in numerical models; improved data analysis and four-dimensional data assimilation techniques; new statistical post-processing techniques; and prognostic statistical models. The PDT points out that this program would constitute a predictability experiment focusing on cloudscale and mesoscale phenomena, with success requiring both technological and conceptual advances. Such success would mitigate some of the most serious consequences of adverse weather for aviation. Strengthening the Research Program The committee found considerable evidence that federal coordinating mechanisms for aviation weather research are in some disarray and not configured adequately to implement the vision described above or to manage a continuing program of research leading to improvements in the aviation weather system. Moreover, funding for aviation weather research, especially at the FAA, is uncertain and constantly fluctuating. Current levels seem to be insufficient to conduct an adequate research program, but without a coordinated approach it is difficult to judge what might really be required. There is no deliberate, focused, and prioritized approach in place to allocate research and development dollars effectively within an overall framework designed to improve aviation weather services. Priorities The absence of clear priorities is one of the most serious difficulties of the national aviation weather research program. Apparently, there is a lack of attention at the senior levels of the responsible federal agencies, and, as a result, these agencies have not established or defined overall priorities clearly. Thus, the research and development effort is not strongly focused on the highest-priority objectives, and no overall plan exists either within agencies or between agencies. Moreover, the current research and development process seems to concentrate on short-term requirements rather than long-term needs. Long-term commitments are necessary to convert research results into aviation weather capabilities and products. This is especially true in areas such as (1) understanding and forecasting snowstorms, icing, ceiling, and visibility; and (2) thunderstorm detection and monitoring. The apparent lack of attention to priorities and long-term needs is especially puzzling in view of the clarity with which the aviation community has repeatedly expressed its needs for improvements in aviation weather services (see "Unmet User Needs" in Chapter 3, page 38). Funding The cost of research, training, system installation, and support systems is typically a small part of the cost of new or existing systems, but the effectiveness of current and future aviation weather systems can be greatly diminished without adequate funding for these activities. Consider the following examples:

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--> The late deployment of the AWOS Data Acquisition System has delayed the commissioning of several hundred ASOS systems installed by the FAA. The elimination of FAA funding for the Advanced Weather Products Generator is likely to delay the development of improved weather products that are needed to fully realize the benefit of the aviation weather observation, analysis, and forecasting systems that the NWS and FAA are now acquiring. The FAA will be warehousing some of the WSR-88D and TDWR (Terminal Doppler Weather Radar) systems that system contractors are delivering, in part because funds are not available to install and operate them. Recommendation: The FAA and Congress should maximize the effectiveness of new aviation weather systems by ensuring that related research, training, system installation, and support systems are funded with a priority equal to that of the system acquisition efforts with which they are associated. Leadership Despite the management and budgetary turbulence buffeting the aviation weather research program, the vision of greatly improved weather information for aviation with concomitant improvements in the safety and efficiency of flight remains viable and compelling. Achieving the vision requires a more focused and coordinated approach by the federal government. As mentioned in Chapter 2 (pages 14 and 15), current legislation directs the FAA Administrator to identify needs for meteorological services related to aviation and to enhance aviation safety and efficiency by formulating long-range research and development plans, conducting or supervising research, and developing new systems and procedures. Although other federal agencies such as NOAA also have important roles to play with regard to aviation-related meteorological research and development programs, none has the aviation expertise and experience needed to ensure that new aviation weather systems will efficiently meet the operational needs of pilots, controllers, and other users. Finding: The FAA is in the best position to provide the leadership, establish the priorities, and advocate the funding required to develop an aviation weather system that meets national needs. Process If the federal government is to meet its manifest responsibility to provide the best-possible aviation weather information for aviation and for air travelers, then it must manage the necessary research creatively, responsibly, and effectively. Recommendation: The following steps should be taken to improve aviation weather research and development processes: The FAA, NOAA/NWS, National Science Foundation, NASA, and DoD should collaborate under FAA leadership to develop, fund, and implement a comprehensive plan for aviation weather research and development with firm objectives and closely integrated program plans and funding commitments. The OFCM (Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology) should facilitate the development of such a plan, but final commitments should be made by agency heads. The meteorological expertise needed to develop and implement the plan described above could come primarily from NOAA and DoD. However, it would also be prudent to strengthen the FAA's in-house meteorological expertise. The FAA and NOAA should ensure that aviation weather research and development are closely coupled to operational components of these agencies so that new concepts and new ideas can be swiftly integrated into ongoing operations. The aviation weather research and development process should seek continuing and in-depth involvement with all users, especially the pilots, controllers, forecasters, and dispatchers who depend on weather information to facilitate safe and efficient operations. Major Recommendation 4 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. References FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). 1994a. 1994 FAA Plan for Research, Engineering and Development. Washington, D.C.: FAA. FAA. 1994b. Aviation Weather System: A Vision of the Future. Washington, D.C.: FAA. FAA. 1994c. FAA Strategic Plan. Washington, D.C.: FAA.

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--> Friday, E. 1995. Personal communication from Elbert W. Friday, Jr., Director, National Weather Service, to John A. Dutton, March 22, 1995. GAO (General Accounting Office). 1993. Aviation Research—Issues Related to FAA's Research Activities. Statement for the Record of Allen Li, Associate Director, before the Subcommittee on Technology, Environment, and Aviation, Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, House of Representatives. Washington, D.C., July 29, 1993. NRC (National Research Council). 1994. Weather for Those Who Fly. National Weather Service Modernization Committee, National Research Council. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. OFCM (Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology). 1992. National Aviation Weather Program Plan. Washington, D.C.: OFCM. OFCM. 1995. National Agenda for Meteorological Services and Supporting Research. Washington, D.C.: OFCM. USWRP (U.S. Weather Research Program). 1994. U.S. Weather Research Program Implementation Plan. Washington, D.C.: Department of Commerce. USWRP. 1995. Report of the Prospectus Development Team, U.S. Weather Research Program. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. July 1995. Boston: American Meteorological Society.