NOAA’s Organizational Structure

I had been confused about the structure of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for quite some time so I decided to research it and write a blog about it for everybody’s benefit.

Here is a summary organizational chart I created to help visualize NOAA’s structure and then I summarize what each aviation-related division’s mission is below.

NOAA's Organizational Chart

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

NOAA is an Operating Unit of the U.S. Department of Commerce along with several other agencies, such as the Economics and Statistics Administration or the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for example (http://www.commerce.gov/sites/default/files/documents/migrated/Department%20Organization%20Chart.pdf). NOAA has seven divisions:

  • Ocean Service
  • National Weather Service (NWS)
  • Fisheries
  • Satellites and Information
  • Research
  • Office of Marine and Aviation Operations
  • Office of Program Planning and Integration

As pilots, some of us obtain aviation weather services directly from the National Weather Service (NWS) while others get it through flight planning tools, such as AOPA’s FlyQ.

NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS)

The NWS’ mission is to provide weather, water, and climate data, forecasts and warnings for the protection of life and property and enhancement of the national economy.

NWS is divided into three areas: 1) Leadership and headquarter staff in Silver Spring, Maryland, 2) six regional offices, and 3) nine national centers.

NWS Regional Offices

The AOPA Central Southwest Region (NM, TX, LA, OK, AR, KS, MO, NE, and IA) aligns with NWS’ Central (IA, KS, MO, NE among others) and Southern (AR, LA, NM, OK, TX among others) Regions.

The NWS Central Region office is located in Kansas City, MO. For more information, visit http://www.crh.noaa.gov/crh/. The NWS Southern Region office is located in Fort Worth, TX. This region is the most weather-active region in the nation and its nearly 1,000 employees are dedicated to the effective 24/7 delivery of weather, water and climatological forecasts, services and warnings. For more information, visit http://www.srh.noaa.gov/.

In addition, there are Center Weather Service Units (CWSUs) which were formed as a direct response to the Southern Airways flight 242 crash. The aircraft crashed near Atlanta, Georgia in 1978 due to a thunderstorm. Since that crash, 84 National Weather Service meteorologists directly support the aviation customer by providing detailed weather information 16 hours a day, 7 days a week from 21 Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCCs) (http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/ato/artcc/) in several large metropolitan areas, such as Albuquerque (http://www.srh.noaa.gov/zab/), Fort Worth (http://www.srh.noaa.gov/zfw/), Houston (http://www.srh.noaa.gov/zhu/), and Kansas City (http://www.crh.noaa.gov/crh/cwsu/index.php?site=zkc) in the AOPA Central Southwest Region. CWSU meteorologists perform several functions, but none more important than the face-to-face on the spot briefings to air traffic controllers. These face-to-face briefings let the meteorologist convey a variety of weather information to air traffic controllers using science, past experiences and local knowledge. This is vital in helping FAA personnel safely and efficiently route traffic. Other functions of CWSU meteorologist’s include producing and disseminating Center Weather Advisories (CWAs) and Meteorological Impact Statements (MISs). For more information about CWSUs, visit http://www.nws.noaa.gov/aviation/pages/CWSU/CWSU.php.

NWS National Centers

One of the nine NWS National Centers is the Aviation Weather Center (AWC), which delivers consistent, timely and accurate aviation weather information. The AWC is housed in the Kansas City, MO Central Region office. As a pilot, this might be the site you are most familiar with when it comes to aviation weather and the National Weather Service: http://www.aviationweather.gov/. It provides written and visual information regarding weather observations (METARs, radar, satellite, etc.), advisories (SIGMETs, AIRMETs, etc.), and forecasts (TAFs, convection, turbulence, icing, winds and temperatures aloft, etc).

For more general information about NWS, visit: http://www.weather.gov/organization.

NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO)

NOAA ships and aircraft play a critical role in the collection of oceanographic, atmospheric, hydrographic, and fisheries data. The NOAA fleet is managed and operated by the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO), an office composed of civilians and officers of the NOAA Commissioned Corps.

OMAO’s aircraft operate throughout the world providing a wide range of capabilities including hurricane reconnaissance and research, marine mammal and fisheries assessment, and coastal mapping. NOAA aircraft carry scientists and specialized instrument packages to conduct research for NOAA’s missions.

In addition to research and monitoring activities critical to NOAA’s mission, OMAO ships and aircraft provide immediate response capabilities for unpredictable events. For example, aerial images of disaster-torn areas—taken by NOAA aircraft—enabled residents and emergency workers to verify the condition of houses, bridges, and roads.

For more information about OMAO, visit: http://www.omao.noaa.gov/.

The following are a couple of summary pages about what I’ve been explaining from the National Weather Service’s Aviation Weather Services brochure.

EPSON MFP image

EPSON MFP image

BTW, since we are talking about services – Did you know that AWOS systems are limited to reporting cloud ceilings up to 12,000 feet?? Well, if you didn’t, now you do! =)

California Senate Holds Hearing on Avgas Transition

On September 18, the California Senate Select Committee on Air Quality held an informational hearing on the transition of leaded avgas to an unleaded replacement fuel. The hearing, chaired by Senator Ted Lieu, from Torrance, was held in Westchester, just north of Los Angeles International Airport. Assembly Member Steven Bradford, from Gardena, also participated in the hearing.

The purpose of the hearing was to examine the environmental risks of leaded avgas and the status of current efforts to develop an unleaded alternative. The list of invited speakers was impressive and covered a cross section of interests. Included were: the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association; the South Coast Air Quality Management District; the University of California Los Angeles, Dept. of Environmental Health Sciences; the University of Michigan, School of Natural Resources and the Environment; the University of Southern California, Dept. of Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering; the California Air Resources Board; Torrance Airport; Santa Monica Airport; a community representative; a pilot community representative. Although the FAA was not represented, Senator Lieu presented a letter from the FAA describing the current efforts to replace leaded avgas.

AOPA submitted a comprehensive statement for the record, describing the need for leaded avgas at this time, the importance of general aviation to the nation and state, recent efforts of the Unleaded Avgas Transition Aviation Rulemaking Committee, and the status of the current Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative. In my testimony as AOPA Western Pacific Regional Manager, I highlighted these important facts and emphasized that the AOPA continues to be committed to safely transitioning the general aviation fleet to an unleaded fuel. Along with our industry partners, we have been and will continue to be active in pressing for timely action on the search for a safe, reliable, and affordable alternative to 100LL avgas.

With the given current Federal budget stalemate that threatens funding for research in 2014, I urged the Committee to work with members of the California Legislature and the state’s congressional delegation to ensure that the FAA has the funding needed to continue the transition process.

While talking to Senator Lieu after the conclusion of the hearing, I once again assured him that the general aviation community supports the transition to unleaded fuel once it can be safely, reliably, and affordably accomplished. Boarding a commercial flight back to Sacramento late in the evening, I ran into Assembly Member Bradford, who complemented the AOPA presentation. I think we got our message across.

Changes coming to Lake Hood Chickaloon Departure

Pilots who fly to and from Lake Hood should take note: On October 17th the Chickaloon VFR Departure will change.  This is one of the half dozen VFR arrival and departure procedures that help GA traffic navigate the Part 93 airspace segments providing access to the airports, airstrips and water landing areas in the Anchorage Bowl.

In the revised procedure below, aircraft departing Lake Hood that used to fly over the old Kulis Alaska National Guard Base will now head directly to the east shore of Campbell Lake before turning south to depart the area.  This change addresses conflicts between Lake Hood traffic and the ANC Runway 15 departures, resulting in TCAS alerts and close calls when winds or other factors complicated flight paths.

While the new procedure is expected to address these issues, at times when ANC Runway 15 is in use, controllers send Lake Hood traffic that is inbound from the south to the east shore of Campbell Lake– before turning them in toward Lake Hood.  This may on occasion put them in a “head to head” situation.  According to the FAA Alaska Terminal District, this is an infrequent occurrence, and the controllers have been thoroughly briefed on this situation.

Note: This diagram becomes effective on October 17, 2013

Note: This diagram becomes effective on October 17, 2013

This plate will go into effect with the publication of the October 17 edition of the Alaska Supplement, and may be found in the NOTICES section at the back of the salmon-colored book. If you have comments or feedback on this change, please contact FAA ATC Support Manager, Dave Chilson  david.chilson@faa.gov.

Alaska Aviation Weather Forecast Changes and Enhancements

Update:  Due to the government shutdown, the changes described below have been delayed, and are planned to go into effect on November 12.

The weather is still one of the most important factors we need to evaluate before each flight.  Whether you fly VFR or IFR, knowing the current conditions and how they are expected to change is critical to that all important GO/NO GO decision,  figuring out which route to take, and what to watch for inflight.  On October 15th, the Alaska Aviation Weather Unit (AAWU) will make changes that should help you make those decisions, as you plan to fly.  Here are some of the changes.

Area Forecast/Airmets
Starting in mid-October, new Area Forecasts (FA’s) will be issued three times a day—at 4:15 a.m., 12:15 p.m. and 8:15 p.m., local Alaska time.  Updates will come out at 12:15 a.m., 6:15 a.m. and 6:15 p.m.—or as needed if things are changing faster than anticipated.  AIRMETs will be either issued or updated using a similar schedule, the details of which may be found on the AAWU website at: aawu.arh.noaa.gov/changes/

Icing and Turbulence Graphics
In a trend which I find helpful, more information is being presented in graphic form.  Starting on Oct 15, the AAWU will issue new icing and turbulence graphics, showing the forecast in three-hour time slices, as opposed to the 6 hour charts we have been using.  Found under the Graphical Forecast tab on their home page, in the sample Icing Forecast product below, the user has a choice of viewing a single 12 hour summary, or on the bar immediately above the product, selecting one of the three-hour charts to see how the forecasters expect conditions to develop during the day.

Sample Icing Forecast Product summarizes over the entire 12 hour period. Individual charts showing 3 hour intervals show how conditions are expected to develop.

Sample Icing Forecast Product summarizes over the entire 12 hour period. Users can select individual charts showing 3 hour intervals to see how conditions are expected to develop.

Another change is that the Turbulence Forecast will be split into separate low and high altitude products.  Along the top, in the sample image below, the user again has the option to look at the 12 hour summary— showing the entire forecast period—or can mouse-over a progression of graphics to see how the turbulence is expected to develop during the forecast period.  Note that while the products are split at Flight Level 180, if conditions span that flight level, they will be depicted on both sets of products.  A little time spent examining the legend to become familiar with the new conventions will help become accustomed to these products.

sample turbulence lo level

Sample low altitude turbulence product, covering a 3 hour period. Users may also select the 12 hour summary chart to get the “big picture.”

A more subtle difference in the product to note:  An additional turbulence category, “Isolated Moderate” is being added. Previously the products only depicted “Occasional Moderate” and “Isolated Moderate to Severe” conditions.

table 2 issuance times

Table showing when both graphic and text products will be updated. Helpful if the weather is bad and you are waiting for the next forecast!

Other graphic products, such as the Surface Map and IFR/MVFR Chart won’t change, however the issuance and update times will.  The AAWU has provided a table (above) summarizing the timing of both text and graphic product which provide a roadmap to the new scheme.

These are significant enhancements to the products available to Alaskan pilots, and a downloadable document summarizing them is available online that contains examples and a more complete description of the schedules and changes.  If you have feedback on products, the National Weather Service would like to hear it. An easy way to reach them is to shoot an email to mailto:nws.ar.aawu.webauthors@noaa.gov.

As pilots we need to remember that the accuracy of these products is influenced by the PIREPs we file, either confirming forecast conditions, or alerting forecasters when conditions are changing faster than expected. Please take time to file an extra PIREP or two as you fly.

So a modification to an old adage might be… “If you don’t like the weather you see at the moment, just wait for the new forecast.”  Thanks to these changes, the new forecasts will be showing up more graphically and more frequently than before.

History of Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Image

I just came back from the Arkansas Airport Operations Association (AAOA) conference, held between September 15 and 17 in Eureka Springs. On the 16th, June Westphal, a very sweet local and historian, talked about the history of the town of Eureka Springs and its aviation story. I wanted to share a summary of it with you, especially for those who live in or close to this beautiful little town. I would also like to encourage you to study the history of your own airport and aviation. I am personally trying to find out more about a small general aviation (GA) airport who used to be in Texas City, TX, where my husband’s family used to run the Airport Drive-in and Grill.

June Westphal

June Westphal

Eureka Springs was not named as such until July 4, 1879, where “Eureka” means “I’ve found it!” It was named that because Eureka Springs is known as the “city that water built” after finding the “healing springs” in town (where Basin Springs is today). The name was chosen by Buck Saunders, a young man who encouraged and brought his dad (Judge Saunders) to town to receive the special healing treatment to cure his illness.

The aviation history in Eureka Springs goes back to 1919 when the first sighting of an aircraft was recorded in Carroll County (this is only 16 years after the Wright Brothers invented, built, and flew the first successful controlled, powered aircraft).

Then 66 year old Buck Saunders asked to be flown over town in 1929 to take pictures of the old “road” he used to bring his dad to town for treatment 50 years earlier. A pilot took him flying in a Curtiss Jenny biplane. Those pictures created the first aerials of Eureka Springs. It appears Buck Saunders was quite a travel and airplane buff, too.

In 1930, the City of Eureka Springs purchased land for a landing strip. This is now the Carroll County Airport (4M1). On July 4 of that same year, a huge fly-in was held at the Airport where dozens of aircraft participated and celebrated Independence Day.

Another airport, the Lake Lucerne Airport, was built in 1930 but, unfortunately, it closed about 30 years later for housing.

Just a couple of years later, in 1932, a pilot flew into town and his airplane broke down. The best car mechanic in town (given the lack of A&Ps) fixed the airplane and, rather than charging the pilot for his services, he asked him to take local kids up flying. One of those kids was the mechanic’s niece, Anna Frankman. The then 10 year old loved the experience and, when the opportunity came up to apply to serve the military during World War II, she applied. Ms. Frankman was one of about 1,100 Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) who ferried and tested airplanes so male pilots could head to combat duty.

It is quite interesting to see how history repeats itself (closing an airport to build housing, for example) and how attracting people to aviation is still quite similar to how it used to be years ago (pilots taking kids up). Therefore, I encourage you to continue supporting and fighting for your airport and showing its value to your local community and elected officials as well as continue to share the great joy of flying with non-aviators and kids.

General Aviation Month in Alaska

It is an honor to have Governor Parnell recognize the importance of aviation in Alaska!  Below is the proclamation, in its full wording, which outlines not only our dependence on aviation, but some of the challenges as well.  The final whereas also recognizes the centennial of flight.

In spite of the many challenges, it is exciting to see how far we have come in a hundred years!

governor parnell sealGeneral Aviation Appreciation Month

Effective Date: Sunday, September 1st, 2013

WHEREAS, 82 percent of Alaska’s communities are without roads and depend on aviation as a lifeline to provide year-round access for commerce, transportation, emergency medical service, and tourism; and

WHEREAS, Alaskan residents fly more than eight times as often as residents of other states on average; and

WHEREAS, Alaska has more private planes per capita than any other state. There are 855 registered airports and seaplane bases, including 405 public use facilities and 450 private airports in Alaska, housing 10,423 aircraft utilized by 8,202 registered pilots; and

WHEREAS, our state’s extreme climate and formidable terrain requires the highest vigilance of volatile conditions, training, resourcefulness, and maintenance of equipment; and

WHEREAS, the aviation industry generates $3.5 billion and over 47,000 Alaskan jobs annually, accounting for ten percent of the jobs in the state; and

WHEREAS, this year, Alaska celebrates a century of aviation history that began on July 3, 1913 in Fairbanks and which, against overwhelming odds, has steadfastly become the largest aviation system in the United States.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Sean Parnell, Governor of the State of Alaska, do hereby proclaim September 2013 as:

General Aviation Appreciation Month

in Alaska, and encourage all Alaskans to honor the achievements of general aviation in Alaska during the past one hundred years.

Dated: August 30, 2013