Offshore Weather Data on the Horizon a radar-like picture of offshore weather for the first time ever

En route air traffic controllers in offshore airspace recently got a preview of a strategic weather planning tool to be available at their facilities in the future – thanks to a team of technical experts at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory who designed a cutting-edge radar simulator known as Offshore Precipitation Capability, or OPC.

The weather situational awareness tool creates a radar-like picture of precipitation intensity in airspace where radar coverage is not available. It will initially be available at Miami Center, Houston Center and the Command Center, and will cover the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea and U.S. Atlantic coast.

R&D Magazine recognized the innovation as one of the top 100 most significant technological developments of 2016.

“We received really good feedback from the evaluations. The data is updated near real time. Controllers can see the data within a minute or two of the time it’s processed and visualized.” - Randy Bass, FAA Convective Weather Research Program.

The FAA and MIT/LL, which have been partners for more than 20 years, reached their short-term goal for OPC last summer by completing 60-day evaluations at Miami Center, Houston Center and the Command Center, where it was broadcast on LED panels in the control rooms. The FAA’s long-term goal is to integrate the radar simulator into controller scopes via the NextGen Weather Processor, as known as NWP, which is scheduled to be operational in 2020.

OPC will allow controllers to better plan offshore flight routes in advance, which provides the double benefit of reducing controller workload and increasing efficiency for commercial and general aviation flights. Airlines potentially will cut fuel costs by flying more direct routes, and the technology likely will eliminate the need for pathfinder planes to observe weather in order for controllers to reopen closed routes – another money saver and efficiency gain.

“We’d like to get it up on the large displays in the centers before convective season begins next year,” said Matthew Tucker, NATCA’s weather representative, who visited Miami Center during evaluations. “But to have a true impact on safety and efficiency we need to get it onto controllers’ displays.”

OPC supports the ATO’s goal to improve weather dissemination from controllers to pilots, one of the organization’s Top 5 items for 2015.

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