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2012-07 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 19, 2012
New airport system facilitates smoother take-offs and landings
BOULDER–For airline passengers who dread bumpy rides to mountainous destinations, help may be on the way. A new turbulence avoidance system has for the first time been approved for use at a U.S. airport and can be adapted for additional airports in rugged settings across the United States and overseas.
The system, developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), provides information pilots can use to route aircraft away from patches of potentially dangerous turbulence. It uses a network of wind measuring instruments and computational formulas to interpret rapidly changing atmospheric conditions.
The Federal Aviation Administration formally commissioned the system in July for Alaska’s Juneau International Airport. NCAR researchers can now turn their attention to adapting the system to other airports that often have notoriously severe turbulence, in areas ranging from southern California and the Mountain West to Norway and New Zealand.
The Juneau system was patterned after a similar system, also designed by NCAR, that has guided aircraft for several years at Hong Kong’s heavily trafficked Chek Lap Kok Airport.
“By alerting pilots to areas of moderate and severe turbulence, this system enables them to fly more frequently and safely in and out of the Juneau airport in poor weather,” says Alan Yates, an NCAR program manager who helped oversee the system’s development. “It allows pilots to plan better routes, helping to reduce the bumpy rides that passengers have come to associate with airports in these mountainous settings.”
The system offers the potential to substantially reduce flight delays. In Alaska’s capital city, where it is known as the Juneau Airport Wind System or JAWS, it enables the airport to continue operations even during times of turbulence by highlighting corridors of smooth air for safe take-offs and landings.
“The JAWS system has nearly eliminated all the risk of flying in and out of Juneau,” says Ken Williams, a Boeing 737 captain and instructor pilot with Alaska Airlines. “I wish the system would be deployed in other airports where there are frequent encounters with significant turbulence, so pilots can get a true understanding of what the actual winds are doing on the surrounding mountainous terrain as you approach or depart.”
The project was funded by the Federal Aviation Administration. NCAR is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.