A day in the life of an aviation meteorologist
Commercial airlines striving to keep to their tight schedules. Military pilots flying off on training exercises. Right across the aviation sector, the Met Office is there to provide the detailed weather advice that’s crucial to keeping operations running smoothly. But what’s it like to offer on-the-ground support to this highly weather-sensitive industry? Two aviation meteorologists give us an insight into their day-to-day work.
Emma Corrigan, easyJet Operational Headquarters
With over 200 aircraft criss-crossing Europe’s skies, easyJet relies on confident forecasts to mitigate any impact the weather may have on their daily operations. As flights start from 6am, the busiest part of the working day for meteorologist Emma Corrigan is often before most people have woken up.
“The morning shift begins at 4am and the next two hours are filled with particularly intense activity. This includes looking at the general weather situation, then focusing on anywhere easyJet is particularly concerned about to give them more detail.”
The skill of working as an aviation meteorologist involves giving clients complex weather information in a way that best helps them make important decisions. At easyJet, this can mean homing in on their most popular flight routes and airports.
“Aircraft can sometimes do six flights in one day, so if a morning one is delayed it can have a knock-on effect that could have the negative consequence of delays impacting on customers,” says Emma. “I produce a daily weather summary that highlights the risk of potential impacts. When there is difficult weather around easyJet’s main bases, such as where aircraft and crew are stationed, we tend to see a much higher impact than at smaller airports which may only have one flight a day.”
After creating the forecast, Emma briefs everyone from engineers to executives on the day’s weather, as well as giving them a five-day outlook. She also talks to pilots about the weather forecast for their route – including sending up-to-the-minute information to them while they’re in flight. For Emma, it’s the chance to work so closely with the company that she finds most interesting. “You can see how your advice affects the decisions they make. It makes it really enjoyable when your information helps keep their programme on track.”
And the biggest challenge? The changeability of the weather. As Emma explains, “meteorology isn’t an exact science. Sometimes we’ll be faced with a marginal weather situation that could go either way. You have to be confident in the advice you’re giving, and not sit on the fence.”
Catherine Maguire, RAF Linton-on-Ouse
If aviation meteorology means tailoring forecasts to offer the most useful advice, working in the defence sector takes this personalised approach to a new level. Catherine Maguire, stationed at an RAF base that trains fast-jet pilots, often finds herself advising individual pilots on the routes they plan to fly.
“They might say, ‘I’m flying from Yorkshire to the north of Scotland via these valleys’”, says Catherine. “Because their aircraft are much more sensitive to weather than commercial jets, they need to know about small fluctuations in weather conditions for the entire journey.”
The weather in brief
Catherine’s working day begins at 5.30am, when she gets up to speed with the day’s weather, then briefs pilots and operational personnel ahead of the first training flights. Due to the different limits that the trainee pilots can fly at, such as the cloud base and wind speed, these briefings have to be extremely detailed.
“Sometimes I’ll brief groups as small as two or three pilots. Experienced pilots can fly in most weather conditions, but the trainees are far more sensitive to weather. For example, a difference of a few hundred feet in the cloud base can decide whether someone will fly or not, so you do have to be incredibly specific.”
Staying up to date
After the briefings, Catherine is on hand to answer enquiries and create ad hoc forecasts, including advising about conditions that could affect ground-level operations at the base. For instance, as the RAF is responsible for gritting its own roads, a heads-up about icy conditions can help make sure people and resources are available to get the job done. As might be expected, it’s the weather that makes a difference to the day’s workload.
“Although the structure of each day is the same, what I do depends on whether there’s hazardous weather forecasted”, explains Catherine. “If there are thunderstorms or low cloud coming in, I’ll have lots of enquiries from pilots. And if conditions change faster than expected, I’ll get in touch with flight operations who can call the pilots back if needed. It’s all about constant communication.”