Mode Aviation
Reference No. AR201600113
Date reported 12 December 2016
Concern title Weather information received by flight crew before and during flights from the operator’s meteorology section
Concern summary

The concern related to the information, which is received by flight crew from the operator’s meteorology section as they do not represent the actual weather and the information is often significantly different to the information from the Bureau of Meteorology.

Industry / Operation affected Aviation: Air transport
Concern subject type Aviation: Flight crew

Reporter's concern

The reporter expressed a safety concern related to the forecast weather conditions crews are receiving from the airline's meteorology section.

The reporter advised that the weather forecasts being forwarded often do not represent the actual weather and are significantly different to the weather forecasts from Airservices Australia.

They advised that the forecast for Brisbane Airport on the weekend of the [date] December did not have any information on a storm, but there were storms forecast for both the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast all afternoon. A number of flight crews used the meteorology service information and consequently did not carry holding fuel, which resulted in them having to divert to another airport.

Flight crews are finding that when they have passed their point of no return, they are receiving updated weather information which can be significantly different and more in line with the weather being advised by the Airservices weather forecast.

Flight crews are also frequently receiving emails from management pointing out that crews are carrying too much discretionary fuel. This is based on graphs which are based on narrow and selective statistics.

Operator's response (Operator 1)

[Airline] employs meteorologists to primarily provide specialist weather related advice to its operations centre. The meteorologists are also available to participate in a pilot initiated weather briefing. It should be noted that they do not issue forecasts.

Aviation weather forecasts in Australia are provided by the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), and are the single source of forecasts for pilots, operators and air traffic control. The meteorological information provided to our flight crew as part of their pre-flight briefing package is sourced from the BoM via a feed from Airservices Australia and is compiled by the [airline] flight planning system into a tailored briefing package (accessed via iPad) specific for the flight or series of flights to be undertaken. Updates to forecasts after the delivery of the pre-flight briefing package are auto generated to the flight crew members iPad and / or are sent to the aircraft via ACARS.

For example on [date], our meteorology section assessed that a weather event would occur in Brisbane and it was estimated to reach the aerodrome at 09Z.

It should be noted that at this time the BoM were confident that the thunderstorms would not reach the airport. The airport briefing at 0520Z indicating ‘A stable and dry environment near the coast along with strong sea breezes should prevent storms from affecting the aerodrome. However storms developing to the west will have some strong steering winds pushing them towards the coast but the chance is relatively low of storms affecting the aerodrome’.

The airline meteorology assessment occurred at 0350Z and a company initiated higher risk level was planned to commence at 09Z (this resulted in the carriage of additional fuel up to 60 minutes, payload permitting). At 05Z the higher risk was re-assessed by the meteorology section to commence at 08Z.

This higher risk level is raised when the meteorology section modelling, which is done in real time, shows a weather event may occur, regardless of state forecasting, and appropriate fuel carriage is then planned for the period of the risk. An inherent issue extant is that an aircraft may already be airborne to the destination at the time modelling predicts an event and level of risk is raised.

The meteorology sections application of this higher risk level on [date] was accurate to within 30 minutes of the event effecting the aerodrome. The first amended Terminal Area Forecast issued by the BoM that notated TSRA (thunderstorms with rain) was issued at 0556Z, some 2.06hrs after the meteorology section applied the higher level of risk to [airline] aircraft inbound services to Brisbane.

Flight operations management advise that flight crew do not receive emails that point out that they are carrying too much discretionary fuel. Flight operations management do provide advice to flight crew on how they can improve their operational efficiency in regards to fuel management through the use of single engine taxi-in, reduced flap for landing and the use of idle reverse thrust on engines. B737 flight crew were provided charts on aggregated discretionary fuel uplift data for their evaluation. Flight crew additional fuel uplift remains at their discretion.

Regulator's response (Regulator 1)

CASA has reviewed the REPCON and is satisfied with the operator’s response. CASA also conducted its own review and found no indication that the airline issues their own forecasts or any evidence to support that management are specifically advising flight crews regarding too much discretionary fuel. However, should the reporter have such evidence, and be willing to provide redacted copies of that evidence to CASA, that would be of assistance to review the matter further.

Last update 12 July 2018