Weather requires care in flight planning, especially for GA
FAA has added AWOS and Weather Cameras as risk assessing tools
Next site for WX Cameras is Hawai’i
To give pilots better real time flight safety information, the FAA has added Automated Weather Observation Systems (AWOS) and Weather Cameras (WX Camera) to the system. Most recently an initiative was announced to add WX Cameras in Hawai’i. Why does this make such sense for the 50th state which, like the 49th, depends so heavily on aviation.
Adverse weather conditions remain a leading contributing factor in general aviation accidents. The most frequent probable causes are loss of control–in flight (LOC-I) and controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) (FAA 2001-2016 data). Frequently, those errors are the product of pilots encountering unexpected severe weather. Under such circumstances, the pilots tend to make decisions which increase risk. In such compromising situations, pilots are more likely to make decisions, which endanger themselves, passengers, and the aircraft.
The FAA’s initial response to WX issues and aviation challenges, begun in the 1980s, was the Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS). a complex, expensive and sophisticated airport-based set of instruments. It then broadcasts to its WX information to pilots. The units can assess wind speed and direction, visibility, present weather (falling precipitation), obscurations to vision, cloud coverage and ceiling, temperature and dew point, barometric pressure and altimeter setting, precipitation accumulation, icing (freezing rain) and lightning (thunderstorms).
As the FAA installed AWOSs at airports, the systems have been enhanced to this set of capabilities:
- AWOS A: barometric pressure and altimeter setting (in inches of Mercury).
- AWOS I: windspeed and wind gusts (in knots), wind direction (from which the wind is blowing) and variable wind direction (in degrees of the compass), temperature and dew point (in degrees Celsius), altimeter setting and density altitude.
- AWOS II: all AWOS I parameters, plus visibilityand variable visibility (in miles).
- AWOS III: all AWOS II parameters, plus sky condition(in oktas), cloud ceiling height (in feet), and liquid precipitation accumulation (in inches).
- AWOS III P: all AWOS III parameters, plus precipitation type (rain, snowand sometimes drizzle) identification.
- AWOS III T: all AWOS III parameters, plus thunderstormdetection (via a cloud-to-ground lightning detector).
- AWOS III P/T: all AWOS III parameters, plus precipitation type identification and thunderstorm detection.
- AWOS IV Z: all AWOS III P/T parameters, plus freezing raindetection via a freezing rain sensor (Note: this configuration used to be called AWOS III PTZ).
- AWOS IV R: all AWOS III P/T parameters, plus runwaysurface condition.
- AWOS IV Z/R: all AWOS III P/T parameters, plus freezing rain detection and runway surface condition.
The FAA decided to develop a supplement for AWOS and began in 1999 to position weather cameras nationally. Installation of 230 WX cameras was completed in July 2016. The FAA’s cameras are small, lightweight, and highly portable. Installation takes around two days, and after that, the cameras are programmed to notify the FAA if there is an outage. The affordability and reliability of the cameras save time and precious resources.
More than the AWOS coverage of airports alone, these WX cameras can show pilots real time views of the airfields, air routes as well as extreme mountain passes. The sites are powered by solar and wind generators and the images are transmitted by satellite sent back to the internet. The FAA WX images provide pilots one of the most useful flight decision making tools. When used alongside meteorological aerodrome reports (METARs), the weather cameras create a reference for assessing risks from weather.
Hawai’i’s unique topography (Mountains of up to ~14,000’), dozen cavernous valleys, strong winds, shores lined by significant cliffs and tourist sites on sharp terrain all call for the WX Cameras. The FAA’s project makes immense safety sense.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is expanding weather-camera services to Hawaii to enhance aviation safety and pilot decision-making. The cameras, which already are installed in Alaska and Colorado, improve safety by providing pilots with near-real time video of weather conditions at their destinations and
The Hawaii project will install 23 camera facilities throughout the islands. The FAA has completed engineering surveys and site selections on Kauai, Lanai, Maui and Molokai, and will begin surveys on Oahu and the Big Island in March 2021. Each facility can accommodate up to four cameras and the images can be viewed at https://weathercams.faa.gov.
The FAA plans to begin camera installations on Kauai in March and will move to the other islands as the agency develops engineering plans, obtains leases and permits, and procures the equipment. The agency expects images from the Kauai cameras will be on its weather-camera website in mid-2021.
The FAA established working groups of aircraft operators and FAA experts on each island to identify prime locations for camera installations and to ensure robust communication between pilots and the agency about the project’s progress. The FAA is basing site locations on flight routes and areas where weather conditions commonly affect and interrupt flight operations.
Weather cameras in Alaska have been successful for 20 years. Last year, the FAA helped the Colorado Department of Transportation implement a weather camera program to improve pilot awareness of weather conditions above the Rocky Mountains.
For more insight into the history and future of the FAA Weather Camera Program, go to the FAA Blog, Cleared for TakeOff, to read a new post from our very own Weather Camera Manager, Walter Combs.
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