The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has unveiled a new tool to help airlines better avoid turbulence.
Called Turbulence Aware, the program uses an algorithm that takes in existing sensor parameters from an aircraft’s onboard systems to calculate the intensity of any turbulence on a scale from zero representing smooth air to one, which indicates very severe turbulence.
Given the inputs to Turbulence Aware are already collected on most aircraft, no additional equipment is required. Rather, a software update to the onboard systems is what is needed to begin collecting the data.
The data could be accessed by pilots flying on similar routes, offering real-time updates on potential areas of turbulence.
The head of the IATA meteorological program Katya Vashchankova said Turbulence Aware would offer a smoother and safer journey, noting turbulence was the leading cause of injuries to passengers and cabin crew in non-fatal accidents, according to the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Turbulence Aware would also help airlines reduce costs and potential disruptions.
“Turbulence is not just something that can make your flight occasionally uncomfortable, it is an important safety concern for many airlines,” Vashchankova told reporters at the IATA Global Media Day briefings in Geneva on December 12.
“Turbulence also has an important economic impact on the airline operation and airlines every year incur millions of dollars in costs.”
“Most of these costs come from potential diversions, damaged cabin interiors, as well as excessive fuel burn that occurs when a pilot is searching for a smooth ride and deviating from their optimal flight level.”
Vashchankova said the existing tools available to pilots and dispatchers to manage turbulence had a number of limitations.
First, pilot reports of turbulence to air traffic controllers are often quite subjective.
“To a more experienced pilot it can be just some light chop and to a pilot flying a very small aircraft it can be a very severe turbulence encounter,” Vashchankova explained.
Second, turbulence forecasts can be hours old and therefore obsolete. Also, weather radar is unable to predict clear air turbulence.
“In many instances, the limitations of these tools leads to the fact that turbulence remains unforeseen and unanticipated, leading to injuries.”
Airlines asked IATA to create a platform where they could share turbulence data to help mitigate turbulence. It is called Turbulence Aware, introduced today at #IATAMediaDay. https://t.co/x1B4iEPAG7 pic.twitter.com/jCGMIZnpuq
— IATA (@IATA) December 12, 2018
Turbulence Aware uses parameters such as true airspeed, windspeed, pitch and angle of attack, among other indicators, which is sent to the ground using standard communications systems.
While airlines typically compile their own data on potential turbulence, Turbulence Aware would have the benefit of collecting data from multiple airlines. It would take about 30 seconds to process the data using a platform developed by United Kingdom-based software company Snowflake.
“The idea is that once this data is available to airlines they can integrated it into their own tools used by their pilots, their dispatchers or their OCC personnel,” Vashchankova said.
“So IATA is being very flexible in how airlines can operationalise this data.”
IATA said the data would be “consolidated into a single, anonymised, objective source database” that would be accessible to participants.
“Turbulence Aware data is turned into actionable information when fed into an airline’s dispatch or airborne alerting systems,” IATA said.
“The result is the first global, real-time, detailed and objective information for pilots and operations professionals to manage turbulence.”
Some 14 airlines, including Qantas, are part of the IATA turbulence advisory council, which works on the definition of technical specifications of the platform, the governance framework and best practice for data sharing.
Among those, IATA said Aer Lingus, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines have signed contracts.
IATA said the first operational version of the platform was to be developed by the end of 2018, with operational trials to take place in 2019. The final product will be launched in early 2020.
IATA said Delta had started contributing data to the program.
“IATA’s collaborative approach to creating Turbulence Aware with open source data means that airlines will have access to data to better mitigate turbulence,” Delta senior vice president of flight operations Jim Graham said in an IATA-issued statement.
“Using Turbulence Aware in conjunction with Delta’s proprietary Flight Weather Viewer app is expected to build on the significant reductions we’ve seen already to both turbulence-related crew injuries and carbon emissions year-over-year.”
Delta said on its website the Flight Weather Viewer app has been able to reduce the number of altitude changes in search of smooth air during a two-hour flight from up to seven times to an average of two or less. This represented a reduction in carbon emissions of about 80,000 metric tonnes a year.
“I’ve been operating flights where the app shows me a smooth altitude when both controllers and other flights have reported rough rides everywhere,” Delta Captain Greg Young said.
“When I’m able to request an altitude that looks good in the Flight Weather Viewer and then report a smooth ride, it surprises everyone.
“This is one of a number of tools that empowers us to make a difference for our customers and fellow crew members.”
IATA senior vice president for safety and flight operations Gilberto Lopez Meyer predicted Turbulence Aware would have huge impact on the aviation sector.
“This is going to be a game-changer for the industry,” Lopez Meyer said.
“We are integrating a system that could have thousands and thousands of aircraft in the near future.”