Pilots have long radioed their encounters with turbulence to air traffic controllers, giving aircraft coming in behind them a chance to illuminate the seatbelt sign in time for the rough air. Now, a new fleet of satellites could help warn them earlier.
Tomorrow.io, a weather intelligence company based in Boston, received a $19 million grant from the U.S. Air Force to launch more than 20 weather satellites, beginning with two by the end of this year and scheduled for completion in 2025. The constellation of satellites will provide meteorological reporting over the whole globe, covering some areas that are not currently monitored. The system will report conditions every hour, a vast improvement over the data that is currently available, according to the company.
The new weather information will be used well beyond the travel industry. For their part, though, pilots will have more complete information in the cockpit, said Dan Slagen, the company’s chief marketing officer.
The turbulence that caused dozens of injuries aboard the Hawaiian Airlines flight last December came from “an evolving thunderstorm that didn’t get reported quickly enough,” Dr. McGovern said. That’s the kind of situation that can be seen developing and then avoided when reports come in more frequently, she explained.
Fewer snarls on the ground
The F.A.A. estimates that about three-quarters of all flight delays are weather-related. Heavy precipitation, high winds, low visibility and lightning can all cause a tangle on the tarmac, so airports are finding better ways to track them.
WeatherSTEM, based in Florida, reports weather data and analyzes it using artificial intelligence to make recommendations. It also installs small hyperlocal weather stations, which sell for about $20,000, a fifth of the price of older-generation systems, said Ed Mansouri, the company’s chief executive.
While airports have always received detailed weather information, WeatherSTEM is among a small set of companies that use artificial intelligence to take that data and turn it into advice. It analyzes reports, for example, from a global lightning monitoring network that shows moment-by-moment electromagnetic activity to provide guidance on when planes should avoid landing and taking off, and when ground crews should seek shelter. The software can also help reduce unnecessary airport closures because its analysis of the lightning’s path is more precise than what airports have had in the past.