What is a WAFC?

Why do we need WAFCs? 

Weather hazards which affect aviation such as turbulence, icing and convective storms can have a significant impact on the comfort, safety and timing of a flight. According to EUROCONTROL, in 2018 weather was the second most common reason for flight delays, so it is essential that pilots are informed about meteorological conditions along the routes they take and at their departure and destination aerodromes to help them make better planning decisions. 

To meet pilots’ needs for meteorological information, in the early 1980s the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) developed the requirements for the World Area Forecast System (WAFS) to include the seamless forecasting of upper air winds, temperatures and significant weather hazards to enhance safety and identify potential for delays.

To provide this information to the aviation community, two World Area Forecast Centres (WAFCs) were established – and remain the only two in the world. One is operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the USA and the other WAFC is operated by the UK Met Office. 

What information does a WAFC provide? 

SIGWX charts

Below is an example of a Significant Weather (SIGWX) Chart which is produced by hand every six hours by our WAFC meteorologists. The SIGWX charts are an essential tool for pilots enabling them to get broad overview of the weather relevant to their flight, identify the location of the jet stream, and areas of potentially hazardous weather. On this chart it is possible to see the jet streams (areas where the wind speed exceeds 80 knots), areas of cumulonimbus clouds and turbulence, erupting volcanoes, and tropical cyclones (Hurricane Dorian can be seen just off the coast of Florida). 

Significant weather chart showing jet streams, clear air turbulence, cumulonimbus clouds and turbulence, erupting volcanoes and tropical cyclones (including Hurricane Dorian)

Global hazard fields

In addition to the SIGWX charts we also produce global gridded data sets of wind and temperature which can be used to create efficient flight plans, and also gridded data sets of hazardous phenomena such as cumulonimbus cloud, clear air turbulence and icing. This data can be integrated into, and visualised by, flight planning software and play a key part in the decision making process.  

The future of WAFS

As WAFCs, the UK Met Office and NOAA are responsible for providing the WAFS forecasts online using SADIS (Secure Aviation Data Information Service) and WIFS (WAFS Internet File Service). However, as technology and data advance and improve there is a challenge to futureproof the WAFS to ensure that the WAFCs continue to provide this information to the aviation community. Developments will include increasing the horizontal, vertical and temporal resolution of the gridded data sets that we provide, updating the turbulence and icing data sets to use the latest scientific developments, and producing SIGWX forecasts for more than one timestep. 

Work is underway to determine the future of WAFS to make sure it’s ready for the next generation of aviation. This month (September 2019), some of our team are attending the ICAO Innovation Fair and Air Navigation Congress to speak about what the future will look like. Catch up with them there to find out more, or if you’re not attending, we’ll keep you updated on LinkedIn to show how the new WAFS are taking shape. 

Read more about our role as a designated provider of Aviation Regulated Services

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