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The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) held a Weather Summit on December the 18th, 2013. This event was attended by members of the Aviation Industry that use weather information to manage risk and many of the government agencies that supply and regulate weather reporting. Forty three different people registered to attend this summit, representing the following agencies: NCAR; UCAR-RAL, NWS; FAA; NTSB; NOAA; NEMSPA; AAMS; ACCT; HAI; US Coast Guard; Med Flight of Ohio; Life Flight of Maine; AMOA; HeliExperts International LLC; Landmark Aviation; Belfort Instrument Company; Air Methods Corp.; Nick Stoer & Associates; Health Care District of Palm Beach County; and PHI Air Medical LLC.

This Summit was organized to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the HEMS Weather Tool currently used by the EMS industry to manage weather risks. Presently due to this product being experimental and unapproved (according to the FAA) as a go decision source, the FAA will only allow it to be used to make no-go decisions. Discussion also included what weather data sources were currently available but not being used to improve the reliability of the HEMS Tool. Every industry attendee submitted slides representing facts they desired to be presented. Due to the venue and number of people in attendance the number of speakers had to be limited. One representative spoke for the industry attendees in the data/fact presentation phase in the morning.

In the discussion phase in the afternoon, individuals were allowed to bring up issues they wanted emphasized. The summit recognized the need to change the name of the HEMS Tool to something more appropriate and definitive that encompasses all aviation operations. The meeting adjourned with the FAA accepting responsibility for defining the decision milestones within 90 days. These milestones hopefully will result in the HEMS Tool becoming an NWS sanctioned product by the end of 2014 and how NEXTGEN will enhance its reliability as an approved stand-alone weather product.

The FAA groups the new technology of Multiple Radar Multiple Sensor (MRMS) into the National Mosaic Quantitative Precipitation Estimation (NMQ) which uses composite reflectivity and dual polarization to give very reliable weather data. This equipment has a 99.95 % up time reliability. The current weather web site Aviation Digital Data Service (ADDS) gets 16,000,000 hits per day. Using MRMS with research Traffic Management Advisory (rTMA) an accurate 3D estimate of the weather can be made. In certain areas weather information is derived for every 2.5 square km every hour; in other areas 5 square km every hour, and in Alaska every 6 square km an hour. With the use of MRMS Enhanced Short Term Forecast can be done for 1 up to 3 hours in the future. The goal is a Single Authoritive Source for ceiling and visibility to be displayed graphically every hour. At the end of 2014 they expect to have 3D analysis capability using all the NEXTGEN resources down to 1 square km every 5 minutes. All of these resources are expected to contribute to the accuracy of the HEMS Tool. With all of these resources one would think that the HEMS Tool would be superseded however that is not the case. There is no other weather product that graphically represents the weather as well as the HEMS Tool for helicopters operating below 5000’.

The following information is grouped by presenter as a whole and not as individuals; i.e., Industry, FAA, NTSB, Organizations. A link to all presenters’ slides will be provided at some point by NCAR.

FAA: The Chief of FAA Weather wants to be assured by data that the HEMS Tool is worth supporting. He also wants to see the operational impact of not having the HEMS Tool. The accuracy and reliability of the information produced by the tool is under question and needs to be fully evaluated. They want scientific proof that having more data points will improve accuracy and reliability. In the North East corridor where a lot of AWOS III airport weather stations report to the National Airspace Data Interchange Network (NADIN) and are used by the HEMS Tool the accuracy improves to 83% compared to 25% in low station density areas. They were not aware of the over 1900 AWOS III stations that were government installed and maintained that were not reporting to NADIN. The NWS uses these stations but the data is not digitally reported to NADIN for some reason only about 70 per year are being added. An AWOS III station is the lowest reporting station that allows IFR approval for operations at that airport. PART 135.213 requires adverse weather phenomena reporting above the approved weather reporting system. Examples given were volcanic ash, thunder storms, and low level wind shear. Worst weather forecast takes precedence over the current available/latest, AIRMETS provide this function.

In 1990 the FAA issued order 7110.104 that required any digital data going into NADIN must be of AWOS III level or higher. The reason given for this was that the NADIN provided the weather to the international weather services for aircraft of foreign nations to use for IFR flight planning into the US. The FAA was unaware that DUATS (weather stations) and non-government AWOS III’s were not in the NADIN. Nor were they aware of the 500 Federal DOT weather sensors installed to monitor the roadways, railways and navigable waters nationwide were not in NADIN.

Besides the federal sensors, state DOT’s have over 2500 weather sensors monitoring weather in there state nationwide. Any electronic map data used must be from the USGS map service for sectionals or roadways. The FAA pointed out that the HEMS Tool does provide a warning in the lower left margin of the display that the data used is over so many hours old and the accuracy has been degraded. Zooming in decreases accuracy as well, keep it out to a larger scale (50 to 100 miles). AC 150-5220-160 defines the different weather reporting levels of AWOS, ASOS stations, etc.

As the Summit drew to a close the FAA agreed to provide milestones within 90 days of actions to be taken to upgrade and improve the data available to the HEMS Tool and to include all the reporting stations they could from any source so a more accurate graphic prediction can be made by the HEMS Tool. At this point they are sticking to using it only for a no-go decision. However if the tool is transferred to the NWS it will become another approved weather product that users can draw from as they desire. It is understood that industry users desire five levels not three of display, marginal IFR being one of the most critical. NEXTGEN is the name given to all the changes occurring in the FAA to take advantage of technology across the industry, weather information gathering and dissemination, flight planning, navigation, ATC and Traffic Management infra- structure.

NTSB: The NTSB meteorologist has a standing recommendation to the FAA that they adopt and provide the HEMS Tool as an approved weather product for use by the industry. The next EMS accident investigation will carry strong recommendations for getting the HEMS Tool approved and available for the aviation industry.

ORGANIZATIONS: BETA testing is currently being done on the next generation HEMS Tool. Upgrades include scroll over TAFs, locations of hospitals may be displayed, map contours and the color goes to the VFR sectional colors. Graphics may be customized some- what. Without accurate weather reporting the EMS industry would probably lose about 20% of its 680 million in annual revenue. Seventy eight million people living in rural areas depend on the EMS industry to get them to the level of treatment they need. Ten to twenty percent of the rural hospitals will be closed within the next ten years. The level of care and technology in the EMS helicopter exceeds most rural hospitals capabilities. The state of Maine is requiring a portable electronic laboratory to be installed in their aircraft. Most lab test can now be done in the helicopter in real time to better determine the patients required treatment. In Canada all EMS flights must be IFR. Certain states WI, MN, CO, MN fund AWOS and ASOS sites for the use of EMS providers. They pay the fees for the data to go into NADIN.

Don A. Mynard
EOCC, Manager
PHI Air Medical LLC


Weather Summit Summary (PDF)

HEMS Weather Summit Conclusions (PDF)