System helps air traffic planning

The Federal Aviation Administration has begun rolling out a weather information system that gives air traffic controllers and traffic managers precise weather information to help route planes around bad conditions.

The Integrated Terminal Weather System is being installed at the FAA Program Support Facility and FAA Training Academy in Oklahoma this month, said Benn Deans, the ITWS product team lead at FAA. Miami International Airport is scheduled to get the system next month.

ITWS gives accurate data to air traffic controllers, traffic managers and weather service personnel about what's going to happen in the next 20 to 30 minutes in an area of about 200 nautical miles, said Alan Fraser, ITWS program manager for Raytheon Co., the contractor.

FAA awarded a $286 million, seven-year contract to Raytheon in 1997 to develop and implement the system.

Bill Hall, systems engineering lead at FAA, said ITWS lets controllers in airport towers and traffic managers at en route centers, which take over traffic control once an aircraft is airborne, to work together quickly to make decisions about traffic.

'Weather is not something that you can change, but ITWS lets us maintain safety standards,' he said. 'It helps us find out when bad weather will go away so controllers can make decisions on which runways should be kept open.'

ITWS uses the MPS800 Communications Concentrator from Performance Technologies Inc. of Rochester, N.Y., to receive continuous data about wind speed, direction and pressure. Monitoring software, written in C, keeps track of communication failures between the concentrator and radar systems that provide the data. The radar data comes from Terminal Doppler Weather Radar, ASR-9 and WSR-88D NEXRAD weather radar plus other sources such as surface observation centers and national lightning detection data, Fraser said.

I got algorithm

The data is processed by algorithms written in C and C++ by Raytheon and the Lincoln Laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

A Sun Fire 3800 server from Sun Microsystems Inc. produces an integrated weather picture in as little as 30 seconds or as long as five minutes. The server sends the data through an IP connection to Sun Blade 100 workstations used by controllers and traffic managers.

The data appears as either text messages or simple graphics, Fraser said.

For instance, when displaying a storm, the system shows storm cells' direction and speed, predicting where the storm cells will be in 10- and 20-minute intervals.

By clicking on a storm cell, the controllers view a text window with information such as the presence of hail and lightning and height of the storm.

The agency will install 37 systems at 45 airports by 2004, Deans said.

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