Research Projects

Weather Forecast Assessment Techniques to Improve Airport Safety, Efficiency, and Decision Making

Timely and effective decisions involving current and forecast weather are critical for successful airport operations. The multitude of available weather information and data sources can complicate processes and reduce effectiveness of decision making during high impact weather scenarios.

Background (Describe the current situation or problem in the industry, and how your idea would address it.)

Accurate and reliable weather information is a critical tool necessary to ensure airport safety and efficiency. Currently, airports have a multitude of choices when it comes to where and how they receive weather data. However, most airports do not have access to meteorologists and/or relevant expertise and rely on their experience or brand awareness for their forecasting skills. This can lead to oversaturation and undue stress when new products or workflows are created. Most aviation-related weather data is provided at no charge by the National Weather Service (NWS), a federal government agency, and is meant to be public/operator-facing and easier to understand than raw model data. Other surface weather information is provided by commercial entities such as The Weather Company / WSI and Accuweather. Without having skilled meteorologists consistently on site, airports should adopt strategies and operating concepts to receive, smartly assess, and make key decisions based on specific (deterministic) and probabilistic weather information. This weather "intelligence" and the resulting decisions should then be disseminated clearly to airport employees.
Effective communication of this information is vital since many airport employees spend their workday operating airport equipment outside on the ramp where they are susceptible and vulnerable to the weather. Fuel trucks are used to refuel aircraft on both Fixed Base Operator (FBO) ramps and gate spaces at larger commercial airports. Baggage handlers are also on both FBO and commercial ramps moving passenger luggage around the airport. At larger airports, transportation vehicles move passengers across the ramps to their aircraft. All these services are highly susceptible to hazardous and severe weather while outside. Airport personnel must receive, assess and disseminate accurate weather information to keep employees and passengers safe.
Lightning strikes, hail damage, and high winds from thunderstorms present a specific threat to life and property on the airport. Lightning is extremely dangerous and disruptive to ground operations since both fuelers and baggage handlers must cease operations until the threat has passed. Winter weather is another example that can create hazardous conditions for ramp workers. Icy ramps, reduced visibility, and snow removal can pose serious threats to outdoor worker safety. De-icing operations during these winter events are directly related to weather conditions and can impact gate congestion and flight schedules. Temperature extremes, both hot and cold, have also played roles in ramp worker hospitalizations due to heat exhaustion and frostbite.

Objective (What is the desired product or result that will help the airport industry?)

The objective of this research is to generate a guidance and operational concepts for different classes of airports to educate decision makers about specific weather sources, user-friendly weather products, and decision support strategies. These strategies and products will be designed and recommended with the motivation of reduced workload and seamless integration into the current workflow of airports and air traffic personnel. The focus will be on high impact weather events.

Approach (Describe in general terms the steps you think are needed to achieve the objective.)

Airport management offices, FBOs, and other airport-based entities should have specific weather guidance for their employees. The first step in creating this guidance is to perform stakeholder outreach to airport operators to determine the current processes in place for obtaining and disseminating weather information. Next, a gap analysis should be performed to understand where breakdowns exist in these current processes and how these breakdowns impact operational efficiency. This analysis will be used to develop a guidance document for airport operators to properly understand and communicate impactful weather data to airport employees. This will ensure that all weather-impacted job roles at the airport are prepared for forecast impactful weather conditions.

Cost Estimate and Backup (Provide a cost estimate and support for how you arrived at the estimate.)

$300k-400k based on previous ACRP guidebook projects Booz Allen Hamilton has performed

Related Research - List related ACRP and other industry research; describe gaps (see link to Research Roadmaps above), and describe how your idea would address these gaps. This is a critical element of a synthesis topic submission.

Many different research topics, some within the Transportation Research Board, have focused around weather impacts to the airport ecosystem. ACRP Report 160: Addressing Significant Weather Impacts on Airports: Quick Start Guide and Toolkit is one such report that addresses weather impacts on the airport ecosystem. The report created a toolkit that allows airport operators to assess impacts from specific weather. The research proposed by this problem statement aims to complement the research performed in ACRP Report 160 by providing a guidebook to assist operators in determining what weather data to solicit prior to making their operational decisions.

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Idea No. 207