The current system based on fixed jet routes, arrival points, and manual use of radar to separate aircraft, has reached the limit of how many airplanes can safely and efficiently be delivered to the core United States airports. With air traffic and passenger demand expected to continue to increase, improvements to the system must occur. NextGen will create a "network-enabled system". In this system, aircraft will utilize increasingly automated Global Positioning Satellite systems to know not only where the aircraft is, but where it is in relation to other aircraft or constraints in the atmosphere. In this system, free-flight trajectories will allow planes to travel the most efficient route, or to dynamically re-route around constrained airspace quickly, safely, and efficiently.
The single most troublesome constraint in the NAS is weather. As the FAA modernizes through NextGen, the weather information that goes into this network-enabled system must evolve as well. NOAA's Aviation Weather Center (AWC), one of nine National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), is on the leading edge of these weather changes. Currently the AWC produces over 200,000 routinely issued products annually, in addition to supporting the single largest aviation weather website and database. While this may seem like enough information to support NextGen, it doesn't even come close. Many of these products are text, graphical, or digital; and are in numerous different formats, and resolutions, with inconsistent refresh times. NextGen demands consistent, high-resolution data in four dimensions, with update rates on the order of minutes! A four dimensional weather cube, with access available by all users of aviation weather information will provide this data in a consistent format.
The Aviation Weather Center has been working closely with several partners to prepare for the NextGen weather needs. The joint FAA-NWS Traffic Flow Management Weather Requirements Working Group (TRWG) has been working to not just define some of these weather needs, but also to develop the roadmap between the weather information available today to the new weather data of tomorrow. NextGen will be implemented over the next 15 to 20 years. Specific milestones have been identified, such as Initial Operating Conditions (IOC), which will be the starting point in 2013. By 2016, the Middle Operating Condition (MOC) milestones will be met. Final Operating Conditions (FOC) won't be realized until around 2025.
The TRWG is working hard to develop the crucial roadmap to MOC. AWC, supporting the NWS and working with the FAA has helped this joint group to identify the high resolution weather requirements for MOC. There really are no real "requirements" for the current state; it has just evolved with the weather industry over the past 40 or 50 years. Therefore, the TRWG is creating baseline requirements for what we do now. The TRWG is also identifying what changes need to be made quickly to meet the IOC needs. AWC is integrally involved in the development of near term performance indicators. These performance measures will identify how well, and to what extent, the National Weather Service Aviation Weather programs are meeting the initial needs of NextGen. Once that performance is understood and tracked, we can work with the FAA, and aviation weather users to identify and prioritize what needs to be done to begin advancing toward the MOC weather needs.
The Aviation Weather Center is working with many groups and on many fronts to support our FAA partners in making NextGen work. As the threshold of the NextGen Initial Operating Condition is very near, everything we now do will affect IOC. In essence we are already starting to operate in the NextGen world. The AWC is working with the FAA's Aviation Weather Research Group to focus and prioritize research efforts to improve weather observations and forecasts.
The AWC has been working with international partners, like the U.K. Met Office to harmonize Global Aviation Forecasts produced by the two centers. This has resulted in a globally consistent "Single Authoritative Source" of Icing, Turbulence, and Thunderstorm forecasts for aviation. The AWC has been working closely with the International Civil Aviation Organization to start looking at international standards, and evolving them to meet not just NextGen needs, but the changing global aviation needs.
This summer the Aviation Weather Center will be hosting a summer experiment in the new Aviation Weather Testbed to test, evaluate, and refine new and emerging weather forecast data for eventual inclusion into operational aviation weather prediction, in support of FAA NextGen goals. Various community partners are providing data sets to test specific hypotheses, which include basic scientific questions of model use and comparison (deterministic vs. ensemble, storm-scale vs. mesoscale guidance), the design of new data visualization strategies and tools (plumes along jet routes), and the exploration of new methods for communicating potential aviation impact to stakeholders and partners.
The Aviation Weather Center has been increasingly involved with the FAA-Airline partnership called Collaborative Decision Making (CDM). CDM is an approach by both airlines and the FAA to work through operational challenges together. There are a number of sub-teams in CDM who work on very specific traffic management challenges. Weather is so troublesome that it has its own sub-team, called the Weather Evaluation Team (WET). Through collaboration with the WET, the Aviation Weather Center has been able to respond quickly and effectively to traffic flow management's weather needs. One example is the Extended Convective Forecast Product (ECFP). ECFP is a graphic which presents complex probabilistic forecast thunderstorm predictions, and displays them in a way that is intuitive and translatable by the user. This has provided a useful tool for traffic managers to use to extend the planning process for the NAS to respond to weather. This is truly a NextGen tool, that will help improve efficiency well into the NextGen era.
When considering the execution and implementation of NextGen, we are "in the NextGen world" even though it's not yet 2013. The tools we are creating, the relationships we are building, the practices we are setting up today will be there for NextGen IOC. And we have the plans and partnerships to continue building toward the future.
Example of Extended Convective Forecast Product