FAA rolls out weather tool

DOT IG report: Top Management Challenges

Air traffic controllers have begun using a new tool to access more accurate, timely weather information.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced Jan. 23 that it has installed the Weather and Radar Processor, known as WARP, at its 20 en route centers, which take over after aircraft leave an airport's airspace. WARP shows moderate, heavy and severe precipitation at three altitudes.

"Controllers tell me it's one of the best improvements they've seen in their careers," said Steve Pelissier, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association's WARP representative, speaking at a media briefing. "This is huge."

The FAA attributes 70 percent of its flight delays to bad weather, said Bill Peacock, the agency's director of air traffic services. With WARP, the agency hopes to improve service by moving planes more efficiently and optimizing airspace.

The processor builds on the Display System Replacement, a program that gave controllers new workstations with color monitors. Harris Corp. developed WARP from the National Weather Service's Next-Generation Weather Radar, which refreshes its data every six minutes. The FAA hopes to reduce that rate to 4.1 minutes.

Controllers in the terminal area are slated to get a different tool, but poor cost estimating by the agency has delayed the deployment of the Integrated Terminal Weather System, according to the Transportation Department's inspector general.

A report released this week by the IG identified reversing the FAA's spiraling operating costs and boosting capacity as two of the top management challenges facing the department.

"In our view, [the] FAA needs to act more like a business," officials from the IG's office wrote in the sixth annual report, which also highlighted the need for DOT to strengthen computer security and investment controls.

Meanwhile, the FAA is preparing to launch the first phase of the National Airspace Redesign, which will allow pilots to fly the paths they want instead of following rigid routes assigned by controllers, initially at 39,000 feet and higher. To take advantage of the changes, however, aircraft must be equipped with new navigational technologies.

The rollout starts May 15 at seven en route centers in the Northwest.

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