Keeping airports open with on-site forecasters

Our forecasters can be placed to work at airports, side by side with the operational staff, around the clock, every day of the year. For example, our forecasters work on site at airports, enabling staff to ask for the latest information and forecast graphics at any time and discuss the probabilities attached to any risk.

On-site forecasting takes off

A five-year Met Office contract to deliver embedded weather services at Heathrow is a first for a non-military organisation in the UK. It is also a pivotal step towards Heathrow's ambition to be the world's best international airport.

Comfortable, quiet aircraft and state-of-the-art terminals are, of course, vital for keeping customers happy. But an airport's ability to deliver exceptional service - and ultimately remain commercially successful - also depends on its ability to operate within extremely tight schedules. As Ricky Oakes, Heathrow's Winter Operations Manager knows only too well - there are few things as challenging to schedules as the weather.

"The weather has a huge effect on Heathrow's operations," says Ricky. "Having a better understanding of it helps us make informed decisions for all departures and arrivals."

Bringing forecasting home

The Met Office has provided Heathrow with weather advice for many years from our Exeter headquarters. But for the airport to have the fastest, most immediate service possible it was clear they needed a provider that was based on-site where they could have access to extremely localised weather information. After all, a single inaccurate snow-forecast could cost Heathrow over £1 million.

Heathrow put the project out to tender and the Met Office was successful in winning the contract, the ultimate aim of which was to improve operational planning, maximise efficiency and reduce operating costs. To meet these objectives, the Met Office set up an in-house Met Office weather team of six, based at Heathrow, headed up by Operations Manager, James Shapland.

Read the full article "On site forecasting takes off"

Seeing is believing

Embedding weather services at Heathrow has not only revolutionised Met Office meteorologists' understanding of operating one of the world's busiest airports. It's also opened the airport's eyes to the challenges of getting the forecast right.

"We can now understand the operational implications of our forecast, as well as get to know our customer and the intricacies of the airport environment," says the Met Office's James Shapland. "We're no longer just a voice on the phone."

"Knowing what's likely to happen weather-wise sooner means we can communicate in advance to affected passengers," adds Heathrow's Ricky Oakes, "as well as to local communities about flight path changes - and the government. Above all, the Met Office offers us both credibility and confidence. We wanted a partner who could tell us the things 'we didn't know we didn't know'. What we now have is a very good partnership with people who are not just hungry for knowledge - they're dedicated to continuous improvement."

We can offer a solution to any size of airport at any global location. Please contact aviation@metoffice.gov.uk to discuss the possibilities.

Last updated: 3 February 2015

The video below, produced by ITN Productions explores how Met Office Meteorologists work on-site at Heathrow, the world's busiest international Airport, to improve operational planning, reduce operating costs, and maximise efficiency.