Thunderous week – again or still?

July 11, 2012 by Bruce Landsberg

Avoiding the Storm

I don’t know if it’s global warming or just good old summertime, but the amount of convective weather and the vehemence of it seem to be increasing. In any event, I had an interesting experience on the airlines last week. My return flight from Denver to Baltimore was delayed due to storms over the arrival gates into the DC area. Flow control and SWAP routes (Severe Weather Avoidance Program) were obviously in effect. The concept is both brilliant and simple. It also makes me wonder how NextGen will solve the problem of 98% efficient airspace that loses 30% of its capacity to weather for three hours—seems like delays are inevitable, although you wouldn’t know that by press releases and position papers about how the new system will solve all things ATC.

Our flight was not even boarded when the delay was announced about an hour beforehand. No point in putting more aircraft aloft and into a narrow corridor between storms than what the system can handle. It’s something that GA pilots could ponder. Airline dispatchers and the FAA’s Command Center in DC coordinate, and voila, a plan is conceived to get everyone where they want to go—it just may not be when you want to get there. Wonder if that could be worked into our flight planning software, and perhaps Flight Service could help the VFR types?

Sitting in a window seat aboard the Airbus 319, it was obvious as we approached the area. The captain asked everyone to sit including the flight attendants (I’m always amazed at the fools who then decide they just have to visit the loo). We were in and out of the clouds, even above FL350, and the maneuvering began. Long story slightly longer, after landing I spoke to the captain walking through the terminal and complimented him on not hitting a single bump. He laughed and said the beast looked bad on their onboard radar. Of course, I had to tweak him a bit about not having datalink weather in the cockpit of one of the most advanced airliners.

I’m sure FAA management has a good reason for not allowing airlines to use Nexrad weather on iPads (which they do allow now on the flight deck). Perhaps it’s because they haven’t had the opportunity to “certify” it to the Nth degree. We can be forever grateful in GA “that we don’t get all the government we pay for” (per Will Rogers), although GA’s plate is probably overflowing in that regard.

Not Avoiding the Storm

Early returns (with the usual caveats about preliminary accident speculation) show that a King Air and a Piper Lance were lost last week in Texas and Mississippi due to in-flight breakups near or in thunderstorms—despite all the warnings of the Air Safety Institute’s Storm Week coverage on AOPA Live and the online courses.  If anyone has some better ideas on how to help a few pilots understand that deliberately flying in the good ol’ big ones is neither life prolonging nor career enhancing, I’d love to hear it.

 

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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10 Responses to “Thunderous week – again or still?”

  1. Phillip Stacy Says:

    Bruce, I have a suggestion. As most of us in GA use NEXRAD, I say when the the aircraft’s plot or distance to a cell is reached, a message should pop up. “Is penetrating this CB worth your or your passanger’s life?” BTW: I’ll miss seeing you at Oshkosh this year…:(

  2. John Ahern Says:

    Bruce:

    Regarding the17% – Does the phrase “you can lead a horse to water…” come to mind? I think no matter how much effort you and AOPA put out to teach about the dangers of flying through thunderstorms there will always be the one or two pilots who think it won’t happen to them. So what you are doing is getting through to 99.99% of the pilots.

    John

  3. Mike Massell Says:

    It’s interesting that Bruce “tweaked the Captain a bit” regarding not having datalink weather in the cockpit when the NTSB recently sent out a safety alert indicating that the image displayed could be 15 to 20 minutes old. I wonder if the two aircraft above that fell apart in the sky were trying to pick there way through the weather with datalink weather. Not exactly the seed you want to plant at this time until the users really understand how and when to use the information. Perhaps there’s a reason why it hasn’t been blessed for the airlines to use.

  4. Bruce Landsberg Says:

    Mike….

    An absolutely fair question! The real benefit to using nexrad is not to get tactical with it but for a more strategic view of where to go. Having been fortunate to have used datalink almost since it’s inception, I’ve found latency not to be a real problem if you remember that it’s there. What you see isn’t exactly what may be happening and ( we can’t say this enough) the pilot must understand the nature of the system or cells they’re dealing with. Explosive or high energy – really wide berth. Isolated and slow growing – one can be a little closer.

    Just my opinion but I think we ( and the airlines if they could get get it ) are better off using datalink even if it isn’t a 100% solution.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  5. wade russell Says:

    My Malibu has both radar and “down link wx”. I would not DREAM of flying on most days in SE USA w/out the downlink from WxWorx! It tells you what is BEHIND and beyond what onboard radar sees! That is just critical for route deviations because of convective build-ups. A huge safety improvement, INMHO. thnx., Wade Russell

  6. Tom Clarke Says:

    That box is not called “Weather Avoidance Radar” for nothing!

  7. Allen Morris Says:

    My latest blog (http://therogueaviator.wordpress.com/) discusses the Trw summer months conundrum. The highlight is an excerpt from The Rogue Aviator (www.therogueaviator.com) that describes a horrifying flight in a Learjet with an inop radar at night in an area of imbedded thunderstorms. It serves as additional incentive to avoid them “thunder-bumpers.”
    Allen Morris/aka Ace Abbott

  8. Bill Geary CFIAME-ATP Says:

    Bruce
    Great story line. After flying for years making “Go no Go” decisions as PIC and having the added thrill of riding as a passenger in the back seat of airliners during IMC flights, it was a treat to have you share your experience. Flying safely especially while maneuvering around buildups certainly is a skill. Having a window seat on an airline flight sure has it’s benefits. Thanks for Keepin up your great work through the years. Airmen sure are some of “the chosen few”
    Bill G

  9. Andy Young Says:

    How about a two-panel poster to put up in willing FBOs? The first panel shows a thunderstorm, the second a broken bits of an airplane on the ground (after inflight structural failure) in the sort of nice weather that typically comes shortly afterward. Harder to do, but perhaps helpful: arrange it so that anytime someone gets a convective SIGMET when checking weather online, this poster comes up and must be clicked past to move on. As mentioned by someone else, there will always be a few who disregard all warnings.

  10. Mark McCormick Says:

    Agree with Mike Massell. I don’t want old data in my 777 cockpit and besides it wouldn’t be integrated with the FMC. Dispatch is the resource for long range planning, especially when flying international.

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