Forecasting change: Pilots' vision on weather

Here is a forecast that pilots and operational staff would like to hear: in the next few years, they will no longer have to deal with black-and-white SigWx (Significant Weather) Charts and alphanumeric text messages (SIGMET, METAR, TAF). Instead, real-time, essential, continuously updated weather information will be uplinked and presented in the cockpit in a graphical, user-friendly manner and in higher-resolution. Weather-related “nuisance” disrupting the efficiency of operations or endangering flight safety would thereby be reduced to the minimum. Many of these critical and highly desirable changes – outlined in a new publication – are due to happen in the SESAR-driven transition towards a more efficient Air Traffic Management.

Based on trajectory and time management the future European Air Traffic Management system will require a much higher level of predictability and accuracy. This means that consistent, almost real time meteorology (MET) data must be available at the flight deck.

Today, however, pilots receive meteorological flight documentation before departure. At the moment of take-off, data is already a few hours old. Weather also accounts for over 70% of all air traffic delays and disruptions, both in Europe and within the US. According to the US FAA two thirds of delays is preventable with better weather information.

But as ICAO’s Annex 3 – governing the provisions for meteorological information – has not yet standardised or defined its visualisation, much of the available information comes in black-and-white, non-user friendly traditional flight crew briefing.

To raise awareness and address these challenges, a new publication reflecting the European pilots’ vision on weather, calls for better weather information.

‘Better weather information’ encompasses a complete rethinking of MET data production and distribution. Having consistent and reliable information, before and during the flight, available to multiple users, disseminated in seconds should be seen not only as a wish – or cutting edge project of the future – but as a minimum standard for operations.

Integrating weather information in all phases of ATM decision making and sharing it with stakeholders is a prerequisite for a more robust and predictable ATM System. It is therefore a key element in the ambitious SESAR framework.

For example, a specific SESAR sub-work package aims at investigating and demonstrating how the future air traffic management system can take maximum benefit from enhanced weather information and how it can be integrated into the industry’s operations and decision making.

Future meteorological services will be addressed through two SESAR projects. The first is promoting current and future MET capabilities. The second will then design and demonstrate capability improvements to MET infrastructure, as well as design and build MET prototypes. These MET services will access requests from, and deliver their data to the SWIM network via a new 4D Weather Cube concept. From the pilots’ perspective it is important to ensure that the information available in this 4D weather cube is available at the pilot´s displays and fingertips. The concepts discussed today do not envisage uplink of this information but rather pieces of it.

While these projects set a good benchmark for the future, there is a sense of urgency from pilots operating daily with black-and-white weather briefings. In the short term, pilots and air traffic controllers need easy-to-interpret data presentation for efficient decision-making. Concretely, this means:

  • More detailed and timely meteorological information
  • User-friendly, graphically presented charts and information (in higher-resolution)
  • A common platform that provides access to information and showcases developments (e.g. MET portal such as
  • Real-time advanced radar and satellite pictures with flight paths.

No matter how “unpredictable” – weather is manageable with good preparation, thorough information and sufficient awareness. The best preparation is a full understanding of what aviation professionals are up against. The Pilots’ Vision on Weatheris one example of how better weather information can certainly contribute to increased safety, efficiency and capacity of air travel in Europe and across the world.


This article was originally published by the SESAR Joint Undertaking. View original here.