Objectives of the service
Avoiding adverse weather is a major concern for aviation. Weather is a dynamic phenomenon which evolves across time and space. Together with the moving aircraft, the selection of the best route (i.e. safest and most effective) can be challenging for pilots and flight operators. Even with the availability of accurate weather forecasts for an area, questions, such as whether to fly in between two moving storm cells, or whether it is possible to land before a heavy rain starts, remain a challenge. As a consequence, one of the main causes of weather-related accidents in aviation is when an airplane flies into adverse weather conditions, such as highly convective clouds, icing, storm, or heavy precipitations.
Meandair provides data and services to navigate around such weather. Given an accurate short/mid-term weather forecast, the developed suite of algorithms covers queries regarding safe flight routes between two waypoints. The forecast is in the form of a moving weather pattern representing moving clouds, precipitation and others. The flight queries are additionally parametrised with times for the route. The weather data provided by the Meandair Service is available for both the flight preparation phase and during a flight.
The meteorological data and planning services are not provided only as a stand-alone application for mobile devices, but also via an application programming interface (API).
Image credit: Meandair, B.V.
Users and their needs
The target user group of the Meandair service are aviation pilots (for both general and commercial aviation), flight planning personnel preparing flight plans, and developers of aviation applications.
These users have various needs at difference phases of the flight:
During flight preparation:
- Before the flight, monitor changing weather conditions (along the flight plans).
- Visualise the interaction of the future flight plans with the most accurate moving weather forecast.
- In a case of a detected interaction of the prepared flight plan with adverse weather, adapt the flight plans to maximise safety (i.e. avoiding meteorological hazards) and effectiveness.
- Pilots want to see current and future weather conditions in 3D together combined with their current position and flight plan.
- Pilots need to adapt their current flight plans according to the changing weather conditions.
In addition, for developing flight applications:
- Developers of the flight applications want to provide the high-quality weather data to their customers - pilots.
- They want to be able to regularly download the latest weather nowcast and forecast and integrate them into their applications.
- Their requirements on the API are simplicity, reliability, variability and compliance with standards.
The Meandair service targets global coverage (primarily focusing on European countries).
Service/ system concept
Routes generated by the Meandair service cover full 4-dimensional information about the flight including fuel consumption and flight cost assessments. The target distribution channels to get the service to the end-user include:
- software application for mobile devices; and
- application programming interface to the 3rd party flight planning and management systems.
Using the Meandair service, pilots will benefit from convenient flight planning and automated calculation of safe flight plan alternatives together with a visual inspection of interactions of their upcoming flight with the forecast adverse weather will enable pilots to make safer and faster decisions about their upcoming flights. During a flight, pilots will be able to rely on flight plan safety monitoring which will warn them about upcoming weather hazards, and upon detection of such a danger, it will rapidly provide insights into available avoidance alternatives.
Meandair Service value chain.
Space Added Value
The Meandair service relies on the combined use of three space assets:
- Satellite Communications, enabling communication between the computational cluster and the aircraft. The required weather and flight plan data can be hardly communicated using any other existing technology than satellite communication to maximise coverage at operating altitudes. Existing terrestrial cell phone networks mostly do not cover common cruise flight levels above 5000 feet.
- Global Navigation Satellite System, providing aircraft’s actual position to the Meandair client front-end. Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) are used in practically all airplanes nowadays. The ground-based radio navigation systems can be understood as an alternative technology, however Meandair’s service needs a precise an up-to-date 3D position of the airplane in-flight. Such functionality can only be achieved by GNSS.
- Earth Observation meteorological satellite weather data, an important data stream used to locate adverse weather and aggregate it into an accurate space-time atmospheric model. Meandair’s service depends on global, precise, and up-to-date weather information and the best forecasts available. Modern weather forecast systems use data assimilation from various weather observation data sources including ground based radars, weather balloons, and meteorological satellites. Although weather forecasting can be done without satellite-based earth observation data, these are crucial piece needed to improve accuracy of the forecast quality, especially for the upper layers of the atmosphere
Usage of space assets by the Meandair Service.
After a successful Final Review of the Meandair Feasibility Study in 2019, the Meandair Demonstration Project kicked off in February, 2020. Following the consolidation of the user requirements as well as intensive work on the business proposition, the activity successfully passed the Baseline Design Review (BDR) milestone on February 9th, 2021. The project team is actively preparing for the Critical Design Review (CDR) milestone. All the proposed (sub-)systems of the service are designed and several of them already implemented in Minimal Viable Product form or further. The mobile device application already reached more than 1700 unique downloads and it currently provides 5 weather products. The flight plan input and visualisation is already part of the application. Another 3 weather products were licensed to SkyDemon (#1 flight navigation app developer in Europe) and integrated by the 3rd party API. The API was implemented in its first version as part of the Meandair service.
The SkyDemon application with Meandair weather data overlay showing surface visibility conditions. Image credit: Divelements Limited, project SkyDemon Animation of the Meandair tablet application showing rain probability and convective rain cross-cut with a flight plan.
Four weather data products shown in the Meandair tablet application: rain probability and convective rain (top-left), cloud cover (top-right), thunderstorm warnings (bottom-left), and ground visibility with navigation points (bottom-right).