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Finding Clear Air: NW Develops Turbulence Avoidance System

Finding Clear Air: NW Develops Turbulence Avoidance System

Old Feb 9, 00, 8:14 am
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Finding Clear Air: NW Develops Turbulence Avoidance System

From ABCNews.com

Finding Clear Air: Northwest Develops Turbulence Avoidance System

By Karren Mills
The Associated Press
M I N N E A P O L I S, Feb. 7 — Northwest Airlines cut its teeth flying over the northern United States, the bumpy route over the Rocky Mountains where turbulence is as common during a flight as breakfast bagels
The airline has also flown turbulence-prone routes to Alaska and Asia for decades.
All the while, Northwest has been working to smooth out the ride. Today, Northwest’s Turbulence Plot System is recognized as the gold standard for the industry.
“The system has enabled Northwest to achieve a turbulence avoidance record that is the envy of the industry,” said J.A. Donoghue, editor-in-chief of Air Transport World magazine. The magazine on Feb. 21 will present an award to Northwest in recognition of the system.
“Icing, clear-air turbulence, wind shear are things that make a pilot gray,” said Robert Vandel, executive vice president of the Flight Safety Foundation in Alexandria, Va. “This is truly a great system.”

Turbulence Bypass
Capt. Greg Cardis, a Northwest pilot for 15 years, said the turbulence system goes beyond on-board equipment such as radar or reports from other pilots.
“It gives us the ability to avoid areas of significant weather. It’s another aid,” he said.
Northwest introduced clear-air turbulence forecasting techniques in the 1950s. In the early 1960s, Northwest worked with United Airlines on forecasting and avoiding mountain-wave turbulence, the changes in air flow patterns over mountain ranges.
Northwest’s turbulence-plotting system is different from on-board radar being developed that may someday allow pilots to give passengers a one-minute warning before hitting turbulence.

Thirty Years of Experience
The airline launched its plotting system in 1968, providing forecasts for its pilots on clear-air turbulence, mountain wave activity, thunderstorms and some forms of low-altitude wind shear.
In the early days, turbulence data was hand-plotted on wall maps in the airline’s control centers, sent by teletype to Northwest airport offices, then radioed to flight crews.
Today, Northwest’s 25 meteorologists — 16 in North America and nine in Asia — use a variety of high-tech tools to monitor the atmosphere, producing forecasts that are automatically stored, distributed and displayed to dispatchers and pilots.
Since 1968, the airline has expanded the hazards it monitors to include additional forms of low-altitude wind shear, volcanic ash, ozone and icing.
A Northwest pilot handbook cites Federal Aviation Administration data from 1980 through 1996 that show the carrier had the lowest turbulence-encounter rate among six major U.S. commercial carriers as measured by reported turbulence accidents and incidents

Preplanned For Easy Flying
At Northwest’s System Operations Control headquarters, Mike Sprengeler, the airline’s chief dispatcher for international flights, showed a reporter how the system works by looking at three possible tracks for a flight from Seattle to Tokyo.
The most economical route passed through an area over Alaska where Northwest meteorologists had identified heavy mountain-wave turbulence.
“We have to avoid that area, so we pull up different routes,” he explained. No turbulence was detected over a track to the north so that route was chosen, even though it would require more fuel. The plane could still reach Tokyo on time.
“This is all preplanning. The plane hasn’t left yet,” Sprengeler said.
Once the plane is in the air, the route can be changed if necessary, based on new information that flows into the system.
“Everybody wants to know where we’re flying because they want to follow us,” Sprengeler said. “They know we’re not going to get bumped around.”

Continental, Virgin On Board
The Northwest system soon will be in more widespread use. The airline is making it available to other airlines through ARINC, an Annapolis, Md., company that has purchased distribution rights.
Alaska Airlines already is using the system. Continental Airlines begins using it Feb. 14. Mesaba Airlines, Legend Airlines, Piedmont Airlines and Virgin Atlantic Airways also have signed up, said Tom Fahey, Northwest’s meteorology manager.

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Old Feb 9, 00, 8:49 am
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I mentioned recently on another thread that Northwest flies some unusual routings to avoid turbulance and get a break with their air frame insurance carrier. I had no idea how they figured out their routes though. Pretty cool.
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