How can we weatherproof the network?

11 June 2018

Weather is consistently responsible for a third of all air traffic management (ATM) delays in the European network. Last year, it caused 25.5% of air traffic flow management delay and 19.2% at airports. Since 2013, there has been an 80% increase in delay minutes attributable to weather.

With climate change, weather events are becoming more intense and less predictable. There are more, increasingly severe, storms and wind; rainfall is more intense. Weather patterns are different, too: in the northern part of Europe, instead of constant cold in the winter, there are variations in temperature, bringing icy slush and rain instead of the usual snow.

Last June and July, the weather prompted more than 100 regulations in a single day. Most of them were issued at very short notice - meaning that all too often, they came in too late to be of much help. Flights were often subject to several regulations at once, which meant that finding a reroute was very difficult.

It was almost impossible to gain a proper perspective on what was happening in the network that summer. Capacity was squandered and there was a danger of over-delivery of traffic for controllers - which can be a safety hazard.

The January User Forum held a session on weather matters and at one of the breakout sessions, it was decided that the time had come to collaborate and plan better in this area.

There was broad consensus that, given the cross-border nature of weather phenomena, it was important to manage weather matters centrally. The conclusion: a forum should be held to see how best to do this.

The Weather Forum

Our goal when organising the forum, aptly named “Weatherproofing the network, a collaborative approach”was to help the network as a whole find practical solutions for dealing with disruptive weather. The event was well attended, bringing together 120 managers and representatives from all operational sectors concerned with weather resilience issues.

The first day was devoted to presentations from a variety of stakeholders and weather experts as well as question and answer sessions. On the second day, a number of break-out sessions were held to explore and analyse the issues in depth.

One of the speakers, Ron Schneider from the FAA, pointed out that in managing weather, it is essential to have a good view of the situation that everyone can agree with. So, having a Europe-wide forecast is a must.

Local forecasts will still be needed but they will have to feed into the larger picture. Operational environments will need their own forecasters, too.

It was agreed that planning should be done as far in advance as possible, preferably -D3.

Looking at long-term forecasts can help, especially in the high convective season between June and September. They can be particularly helpful in planning adequate staffing levels.

All stakeholders need to be aware of what’s going on - not just in their own area but further afield, too.

The Network Manager needs to develop harmonised cross-border procedures for planning and managing weather events on a network level.

Raising situational awareness across the board is essential. Processes have to be developed and recommendations made on a network level. Important information and plans have to be openly shared. Why not have a daily weather conference in times of severe weather, for instance?

What next?

An Action Plan has been drawn up to address the conclusions made at the Weather Forum.

NM will coordinate with the stakeholders and meteorological service providers to outline requirements for a network-wide weather forecasting service. A trial will be held in the summer for a small number of air navigation service providers (ANSPs) and aircraft operators (AOs) to identify and plan for cross-border weather. A second, winter 2018/9 trial will be held with more airports, ANSPs and AOs to plan for winter weather events.

NM and stakeholders will make sure that weather issues are included in business and operational planning.

The weather is not going to improve; it is going to get worse. So we all need to manage it better: airlines, airports, ANSPs and the Network Manager together, so that we can restrain this significant delay generator in our European ATM network.

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