FAA Testing New System to Increase Weather Information to Alaska Pilots

The program is also planned to expand weather camera system to other states.

By Jacki Holzman, FAA Deputy Regional Administrator for the Alaskan Region

Because of its harsh environment, Alaska has been a pathfinder for breakthrough FAA innovations — including weather cameras, which give pilots a view of near-real-time conditions.

What began as a small test program in 1999 blossomed into a network of 230 camera systems deployed strategically throughout the state, helping pilots determine when and where it’s safe to fly.

Now the FAA is leveraging the existing weather camera network to test another technology to give pilots more weather information.

The new technology — called the Visual Weather Observation System, or VWOS — provides critical weather information that pilots need to safely fly into airports and landing areas where there is no current weather reporting system. Sensors attached to existing cameras provide pilots with information including visibility, wind speed and direction, temperature, dew point and air pressure — as well as images from the camera systems. VWOS is a potential lower-cost supplement to our current, highly valuable automated weather-reporting stations, which provide weather data without images.

Currently, we have the VWOS system at four airports used by several air carriers, general aviation pilots and charter pilots. We’re planning to evaluate the test data this fall to determine the feasibility of installing these systems in Alaska locations where there currently is no weather information.

We’re also rapidly expanding our weather camera system to other parts of the U.S. In 2020, four years after we turned on the most recent camera system in Alaska, we expanded the program to Colorado by working with the state to install them in 13 mountainous areas. Now we’re installing 23 systems throughout the Hawaiian Islands, and three in Montana. And in Mississippi and Michigan, we’re working with hospitals to study how weather cameras can make emergency medical flights safer and reduce flight cancellations due to weather uncertainty.

We didn’t envision the weather-camera program’s vast national impact when we installed the first few systems more than two decades ago; we were just looking to make flying in Alaska safer. That’s been one of the FAA’s top priorities for nearly a century. And, since safety is a journey, not a destination, we will always be committed to doing more.

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