SITAONAIR FlightTracker to introduce weather-based alerting

The FlightTracker service SITAONAIR has offered for about 18 months as part of its AIRCOM Server aeronautical telecommunications product line will introduce an automatic alerting capability for key weather updates within the next four months.

Paul Gibson, portfolio director for SITAONAIR’s AIRCOM product line, tells RGN that in teaming with FlightTracker partner FlightAware and Schneider Electric – which provides the weather data FlightTracker offers its airline customers – the tracking service will make automated weather alerting available “before the end of the year”.

The new capability will offer AIRCOM FlightTracker customers – of which there are now about 45 – alerting of weather data such as significant meteorological information (SIGMET) advisories; and ‘nowcasting’ and forecasting of turbulence conditions for clear air turbulence and convective turbulence.

Like many other weather-data companies’ products, Schneider Electric’s aviation weather-forecasting software uses forecasts from various countries’ national weather services. But the France-based company uses proprietary modeling techniques to derive from these general forecasts unique Eddy Dissipation Rate (EDR) turbulence forecasting.

Schneider Electric’s EDR turbulence modeling is useful to airlines in that it “forecasts turbulence before anybody has to fly through it”, according to Gibson. Using Schneider Electric’s EDR turbulence forecasts, pilots can be alerted to clear air turbulence (CAT) well in advance and route their aircraft to avoid it.

kontron newestCAT usually occurs within a narrow vertical range of altitudes and is often not visible on the weather radars of aircraft from long distances away, Gibson notes. So CAT advisories have traditionally relied mainly on pilot reports (PIREPS) from aircraft actually flying through CAT. But pilots reporting CAT in large, heavy aircraft such as the Airbus A380 may well experience CAT as being much less severe than do pilots in smaller aircraft such as A320s.

EDR turbulence forecasting is much more quantitative in nature than are traditional PIREPS turbulence advisories, in that it is an empirical measure independent of aircraft size. So EDR is useful to airlines and pilots in describing the actual strength of turbulence.

Although FlightTracker’s automated weather-alerting capability will be new, Gibson points out FlightTracker has been able to overlay more than 70 types of weather data (all provided by Schneider Electric) on its other alerts since SITAONAIR began operating the service.

Among the many types of weather data FlightTracker offers customers are wind and temperature aloft; returns from weather radars; lightning, and tropical storms. Additionally, FlightTracker provides Schneider Electric’s unique Flight Hazards forecasts covering icing conditions, thunderstorms and EDR turbulence. SITAONAIR has also improved FlightTracker’s volcanic ash display.

Together with Schneider Electric, AIRCOM FlightTracker provides a view on critical weather. Image: SITAONAIR

FlightTracker In Operation

Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines were tasked by their respective governments to perform 15-minute positional tracking of every aircraft in their fleets by summer 2015 (in MAS’ case) or 1 July 2016 (in SIA’s case). These two carriers were the first with which SITAONAIR worked to develop FlightTracker.

Its work with those carriers resulted in SITAONAIR and FlightAware releasing earlier this year a second version of FlightTracker, which included minor adjustments to the alerting standards the partners offered in the initial version.

According to Gibson, the adjustments provide “a lot more automatic alerting” to customer airlines’ operations control centers when position reports from any aircraft deviate from preset parameters – for instance, if an aircraft deviates from its flight plan.

“This is key for airlines like Singapore Airlines which are mandated [to track every aircraft in their fleets constantly] and need escalation actions if an aircraft hasn’t reported its position,” says Gibson. FlightTracker now provides SIA and other customers with automated escalation capabilities, including automatically informing specific airline departments and personnel when different types of automated alert are triggered.

“Alerting is configured by the airline based on several factors. If an aircraft does not report its position within the defined time window, then that will obviously generate an alert,” Gibson says. “However, the airline can also configure alerts based on the aircraft entering or leaving a defined geographic area; moving a defined distance from the flight plan, either vertically or laterally; diverting; or sending specified ACARS messages – e.g., a snag report.

“FlightTracker will automatically execute a sequence of actions depending on the alert raised, for example requesting more information from the aircraft – e.g., engine data, position report – and notifying airline staff.”

Gibson says the idea behind the structuring of FlightTracker to provide automated alerts is to let customer airlines “manage by exception” in tracking their fleets. SITAONAIR argues airlines cannot manually watch every one of their airborne aircraft all the time.

FlightTracker monitors the position data reported in uncoordinated fashion by different systems onboard commercial aircraft or generated by air navigation service providers (ANSPs) – ADS-B, air traffic control secondary radars, Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) messaging and FANS ADS-C – and coordinates all these separate reports.

SITAONAIR’s ACARS network transmits all ADS-C messages generated by aircraft at the request of ANSPs. Since aircrafts operators own this data, SITAONAIR can copy these messages to help build its position-reporting plots for every aircraft it monitors for its customers.

This coordination allows FlightTracker to plot aircraft position, condition and behavior and update it as frequently as necessary to meet each customer’s required reporting standard. Alerts are triggered automatically whenever an aircraft deviates from any parameters set for it.

FlightTracker complies already with ICAO’s planned 15-minute normal tracking standard, to be introduced in 2018. Additionally, Gibson confirms FlightTracker already can be configured to meet the one-minute distress tracking standard ICAO proposes to introduce for new aircraft built from January 1, 2021. “If the aircraft triggers an alert, FlightTracker can trigger one-minute reporting automatically,” he says.

SITAONAIR currently provides its FlightTracker service over Inmarsat’s Classic Aero satellite communications service, as well as over VHF and Iridium. The firm is in discussions with Inmarsat over a potentially significant price increase to Classic Aero in 2017as Inmarsat seeks to migrate airlines to its higher bandwidth SwiftBroadband Safety (SB-Safety) service. FlightTracker and SITAONAIR’s new weather-based altering functionality will work over Inmarsat’s SB-Safety.

Read SITAONAIR’s latest FlightTracker White Paper here: sitaonair_flighttracker_whitepaper_download-v5