NextGen Weather Gurus Seek Industry Input

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How will operators use the advanced weather information and tools promised by the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen)? The Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) hosted a conference in Washington, D.C., this week to collect ideas on the matter from various government and industry subject matter experts. More than 200 people attended.

“We’re living in a system where we operate at capacity or where weather forces demand to exceed capacity,” said Ken Leonard, director of the FAA’s Aviation Weather Office. Weather accounts for 70 percent of all flight delays now, he said, but with improved coordination and dissemination of weather data among pilots and air traffic controllers that number could be slashed.

The NextGen concept envisions a system where aircraft are electronically networked, sharing data with each other and with air traffic control in a carefully orchestrated dance. But today, “everybody’s out there in bad weather doing their own thing, and honestly that doesn’t work,” said Kirk Shaffer, FAA associate administrator for airports. Jim May, president of the Air Transport Association, said that airlines are spending more than $1 billion a year dealing with weather delays. Phil Boyer, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, said that while many general aviation aircraft are far better equipped to receive and display weather information than some airliners, “affordability is key” when it comes to delivering on the promises of NextGen.