Military air, civilian air traffic, Air Force Weather, working together for mission success

  • Published
  • By Maj. Steven Dickey
  • DoD FAA Aviation Weather Policy advisor
The U.S. Air Force, Air Force Weather, and the Federal Aviation Administration are working together in partnership to keep the skies safe.

From the early days of aviation, it was clear civil and military aircraft must safely operate together in the skies over our nation and its territories. Because the FAA regulates our National Airspace System and the thousands of Department of Defense-owned aircraft when they are flying in it, there is an obvious need for cooperation. Adding to that need is the expected tripling the demand of the air space over the next 20 years.

The FAA places special emphasis on how weather affects safety and capacity of the NAS. The Administration works closely with organizations such as Air Force weather, the National Weather Service, the International Civil Aviation Organization, foreign national meteorological authorities, and private industry. They ensure users have what is needed to safely operate in the NAS, as well as along oceanic routes and over U.S. territories.

The FAA owns, collaborates with, or oversees several programs and equipment supporting aviation activities. This includes an extensive network of automated observing systems that provide reports from more than 700 airfields across the NAS, and numerous other flight weather products. They also oversee aviation forecasts produced by the NWS for more than 500 locations.

The Aviation Weather Center, an NWS facility in Kansas City, Mo., produces aviation hazard charts and text bulletins such as a Significant Meteorological Advisories, SIGMETs, and Airman's Meteorological Advisories, AIRMETs. SIGMETs are in-flight advisory warnings of internationally specified weather events of an intensity or extent that concerns pilots and operators of all aircraft. In the lower 48 United States, there are convective (i.e., thunderstorm-related) and nonconvective SIGMETs.

Airman's Meteorological Advisories may be of significance to any pilot or aircraft operator and are issued for all domestic airspace. AIRMETs are advisories of significant weather events but describe conditions at intensities lower than those which trigger SIGMETs. Both are intended for dissemination to all pilots in the en route phase of flight to enhance safety. The AWC functions much like the Air Force Weather Agency or an Operational Weather Squadron and serves as official backup to AFWA (and visa-versa) should either facility become non-operational.

On the world stage, the FAA works closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers that provide warnings to aviators of volcanic eruptions and ash clouds, and it is a key player in the world area forecast system that provides weather products to airline operations centers around the globe.

These are only a few examples of services the FAA ensures are available to an aviation community that includes the airlines, general aviation and the DoD. Weather impacts on the system can be enormous. The Air Force and the FAA are two key players determined to make it work.

Senior Airman Randall Jennings, AFWA Public Affairs contributed to this article.