New Visibility Estimation Tool Coming Soon
By Eric Spears, FAA NextGen Portfolio Management & Technology Development Directorate
Pilots familiar with the FAA’s Weather Camera Program are about to get an important new planning tool upgrade that aims to greatly enhance flight safety. The new Visibility Estimation through Image Analytics (VEIA) algorithm has been approved by the FAA and will soon be available for use within Alaska as well as in other areas covered by the FAA’s Weather Camera Program.
(For more details on the Weather Camera Program, see the article below or at bit.ly/3QZgU0H.)
The current WCAM program has 230 Alaska camera sites and 178 sites hosted by NAV Canada, Canada's civil air navigation…
VEIA uses existing FAA weather camera infrastructure to provide visibility estimates based on an automated comparison of current conditions to clear day images. This provides pilots with an easy-to-use online planning tool incorporating real-time visual information to mitigate the effects of weather.
During the program’s testing phase, information was published on an experimental version of the FAA Weather Camera Program website. Pilots then used VEIA, along with other approved tools, to plan their flights. Flight dispatchers and meteorologists also used VEIA to support them.
The FAA Office of NextGen’s Aviation Weather Division managed development of the VEIA algorithm concept beginning in 2016. Led by FAA engineer Jenny Colavito, the VEIA project is part of the FAA’s Aviation Weather Research Program (AWRP). VEIA was developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory and was installed and tested on the Weather Camera website through collaboration with the FAA Weather Camera Program, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Global Systems Laboratory, FAA’s Aviation Weather Demonstration and Evaluation (AWDE) services team, and AvMet Applications, Inc.
“The display the Weather Camera program created for VEIA makes the data very easy to read and interpret,” said Colavito. “The camera images are always displayed too, so any user can give VEIA data a sanity check.”
AWRP began working directly with the Weather Camera Program Office in September 2019 to transition the VEIA capability from a research project into its operational program. This process included a quality assessment by NOAA and a virtual user assessment that included meteorologists, pilots (GA, Part 135, and Part 121), and dispatchers.
“The feedback from the users was overwhelmingly positive,” Colavito said. “The users all agreed that VEIA would enhance safety by providing greater situational awareness for flight planning. In particular, the users really liked to see the trend line of the last six hours of estimates.”
Following the user assessment, the FAA convened a Safety Risk Management (SRM) panel to discuss and evaluate any potential hazards associated with the introduction of VEIA visibility estimates. The panel determined that VEIA can be safely implemented but advised that the camera images themselves always be visible as a cross-check to VEIA.
Beyond the pilot community, VEIA can also serve the critical needs of other members of the aviation community, including flight planners, meteorologists, and system operators of the Weather Camera Program.
Overall, VEIA can have a significant impact on the safety of the aviation community by providing measurements of flight-critical weather information that is currently unavailable, increasing situational awareness in regions with available surface operations, and system monitoring of the weather camera installations.
“The success of VEIA is a great example of what can be accomplished when research programs and operations programs work together,” said Colavito. “I can’t thank the Weather Camera Program enough for being open to new ideas and working with us to bring our concepts through to operations. We hope to continue that relationship in the future. We are currently working on a concept to use the cameras to estimate cloud cover. I think that would be a great follow-on to VEIA.”
FAA expects VEIA to begin full operations in the fall of 2023. For more information, visit weathercams.faa.gov.
Eric Spears is a contractor with the FAA’s NextGen Portfolio Management & Technology Development Directorate.