The time has come: Early November ICAO launched real-time worldwide space weather update service. Three Space Weather Centers (SWXC) will generate and share space weather advisories using the existing channels, similar to SIGMET. The advisories can thereby go directly to aircraft operators and flight crew throughout the flight as standard meteorological information.
The advisories are providing the most up to date information possible on any solar events, which could potentially impact aircraft systems or passenger health. The aviation safety risks arising from solar events fall primarily into two categories:
1) Large solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) can lead to geomagnetic storms. These can present serious risks regarding the reliable operation of satellites, aircraft, power grids.
2) CMEs also stream very energetic solar particles at earth which can significantly increase radiation levels in the atmosphere, at traditional aircraft cruising altitudes, and even at ground level depending on their intensity.
The format of the space weather report (SWX-ADVISORY) largely follows that of the well-known SIGMET. The messages address effects on RF communications, Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS)-based navigation, and radiation. They are available in two levels: moderate (MOD) and severe (SEV) with additional comments added, as shown in ICAO Annex 3, Appendix 2:
ADVISORY NR: 2016/1
SWX EFFECT: HF COM SEV
OBS SWX: 08/0100Z DAYLIGHT SIDE
FCST SWX +6 HR: 08/0700Z DAYLIGHT SIDE
FCST SWX +12 HR: 08/1300Z DAYLIGHT SIDE
FCST SWX +18 HR: 08/1900Z DAYLIGHT SIDE
FCST SWX +24 HR 09/0100Z NO SWX EXP
RMK: PERIODIC HF COM ABSORPTION AND LIKELY TO CONT IN THE NEAR
TERM. CMPL AND PERIODIC LOSS OF HF ON THE SUNLIT SIDE OF THE
EARTH EXP. CONT HF COM DEGRADATION LIKELY OVER THE NXT
7 DAYS. SEE WWW.SPACEWEATHERPROVIDER.WEB
NXT ADVISORY: 20161108/0700Z
The introduction of space weather in the ICAO framework is definitely a step in the right direction. However, we still have some outstanding tasks on the to-do list in Europe. First and foremost, the space weather for pilots as per ICAO Annex 3 should be swiftly implemented by EASA, national authorities and airlines. Second, all pilots need to acquire the necessary knowledge of space weather. It should be part of the syllabus for student pilots.
by Klaus Sievers and Ralf Parzinger, Vereinigung Cockpit
Manual on Space Weather Information in Support of International Air Navigation (ICAO Doc 10100)
ICAO Manual of Aeronautical Meteorological Practice (ICAO Doc 8896)
IFALPA’s Interpilot magazine
IFALPA leaflet on ionising radiation
Aeronautical Information Circular (France) on Global Space Weather Information Service in support of International AIR Navigation