The Benefits of Choosing an FAA Certified AWOS Over an AWOS Alternative
A minute-by-minute snapshot in time of current weather conditions at an airport. This information can make all the difference to a pilot who is making split-second decisions in the sky regarding both their own ability and their aircrafts’ capabilities. This information is what an Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS) delivers in real time 24 hours a day and seven days a week with minimum human intervention. It is reliable, dependable, tested, and accurate technology serving pilots, flight crews, airport personnel, and passengers when they need it most. With weather being a contributing factor in 35% of general aviation accidents, staying informed matters.
Many airports are installing AWOS systems to enhance the safety and economic prosperity of their airport as well as filling in gaps on the national weather map pilots face every day. However, beginning the search for an AWOS system can feel overwhelming. The FAA has lists of regulations and requirements which must be followed, and the cost can feel exorbitant for smaller airports to shoulder alone.
To that end, several companies have begun offering “AWOS alternative” systems. These AWOS alternatives may feel like a bargain, but there’s a hidden cost to their discounted price tags and solid reasons to choose an FAA Certified AWOS over these alternatives.
If you are considering purchasing an AWOS alternative for your airport there are a few things you should keep in mind.
An FAA Certified non-Federal AWOS is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA has well defined performance requirements for certified AWOS – performance standards for the entire system that must be backed up with test data. This includes the sensors, data acquisition components, reporting algorithms, and all other aspects of the system. There is no regulation for AWOS alternatives, no performance requirements, and no testing requirements.
AWOS performance is about more than just sensor accuracy – it is about using proven data processing algorithms, equipment that is reliable and accurate over time, and doing the testing required to prove it.
With an AWOS alternative, there’s no guarantee what you’ll get, and that can leave you with weather blind spots. An incorrect METAR is more dangerous than no METAR at all.
The sensors all measure the weather though, and you may be thinking that the government standards are a little too high and there’s no benefit for your airport to have a certified weather system. If pilots landing at your airport have AWOS alternative weather data, they should be fine, but that isn’t always the case.
Weather affects pilots in three basic ways:
- Reductions in visibility
- Creating turbulence
- Reducing aircraft performance
When it comes to reduced visibility and low ceilings, pilots require visibility and ceiling readings to make safety critical decisions. An AWOS alternative cannot provide you with this data without the same price tag of an FAA Certified AWOS. Saving money on your weather sensors leaves pilots vulnerable to one of the three major impacts weather has upon them in the sky but paying for this sensor in an AWOS alternative package is money which could have been invested into an FAA Certified AWOS and delivered better results.
AWOS alternatives also cannot be connected to the FAA’s Weather Messaging Switching Center Replacement (WMSCR) or National Airspace Data Interchange Network (NADIN). This means information your alternative system gathers cannot feed into the larger national system. As a result, your airport remains off the national weather map and out of national weather briefings. Likewise, alternative AWOS systems are not covered by the Airport Improvement Program and therefore are ineligible for grants from the Federal government and the FAA. Both restrictions stunt your airport’s ability to grow and increase air traffic capabilities.
While AWOS alternatives may seem more cost efficient upfront, there are obvious limitations for detailed weather information collection and dissemination. AWOS systems are expensive because the equipment is sophisticated and thorough. Automated machines free up personnel for additional tasks and takes the burden off them of monitoring alternative machines and supplementing the data. Finally, AWOS alternatives limit your airports growth by limiting aircraft traffic and that limited growth damages not only your airport but your whole community.
Benefits of an FAA Certified AWOS
FAA Certified AWOS play a crucial role in the National Airspace System (NAS) providing information to FAA Flight Services, Air Traffic Control, commercial weather providers, internet sites, pilot briefing systems, and private forecasting companies. They provide many benefits to an airport over an AWOS alternative, such as access to federal messaging programs and grant opportunities.
A certified AWOS-III or better can be connected to the WMSCR which is used to disseminate meteorological data and reports including METARs. Not only will pilots approaching your airport have access to certified weather information, but disseminating data gathered by your AWOS to the WMSCR will assist in increasing the accuracy of your local weather forecasts, putting your airport on the national weather map, and increasing safety of all aircraft passing through your airspace.
Another benefit to choosing an FAA Certified AWOS is the assistance in funding. It’s no secret that accurate weather data is expensive to collect and disseminate. While you may see perks in cutting corners and purchasing an AWOS alternative for your airport, there are funding options available to Certified AWOS that the alternatives cannot offer. Only FAA certified AWOS qualify under the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) for grants and funding options. While the upfront cost may be greater for a certified AWOS system, in many cases you aren’t on your own. Working with The Non-Federal Program to purchase and fund your future AWOS may drastically reduce the cost overall as certified airport improvements are often a partnership between an airport owner, the state department of transportation, and the Federal government.
Aside from the access to federal programs and funding options, FAA Certified AWOS offer a level of meteorological data which absolutely cannot be matched by the alternative options.
Managing Air Traffic Safely
In an October 2017 article in Business Aviation Insider, weather was cited as a contributing factor in 35% of all general aviation accidents with 75% of those involving fatalities. Keeping pilots informed of current weather at your airport and contributing weather data to the national weather map can make a huge impact on aviation accidents and contribute to the overall safety of an airport and aircraft in a variety of ways.
- During the pre-flight plan preparation process for pilots, the more weather data available the better. A Certified AWOS allows pilots to make efficient fuel management decisions, reduces the weather information gaps pilots face mid-flight, and allows them to prepare for possible diversions and alternate route planning if necessary. A good general aviation pilot is advised to have weather checkpoints every 25 to 30 nautical miles, and your AWOS can help provide these check-ins with a snapshot of weather data and assist in keeping pilots safe.
- Pilots approaching your airport will have access to certified weather reports from your AWOS. These reports allow them to make the best-informed decisions regarding which approach is best, or even if an approach can be safely attempted during periods of inclement weather. This information is particularly valuable if your airport only has a single or limited approach options and allows pilots to decide if alternative plans will be necessary. This also means your airport serves as a safety precaution for surrounding airports when inclement weather means a pilot needs to diverge from their original flight plan for safety reasons since minor weather changes between airports can make all the difference and an FAA Certified AWOS is releasing minute by minute accurate meteorological readings of the aerodrome.
- Periods of low visibility can be hazardous. AWOS reports serve as a pilot’s eyes when they cannot see a windsock with voice reports provided by telephone or ground-to-air radio communication options.
Providing Minute by Minute Weather Information
- An airport in Alaska will likely not face the same weather conditions as one in Arizona or Florida, nor will a small airport without a manned tower have the same demands as a major airline hub. A Certified AWOS comes in a variety of system levels which are customizable to the weather demands of an individual airport regardless of whether it needs to track regular thunderstorms and freezing rain or heavy fog and cloud coverage.
- Certified AWOS systems guarantee real-time METAR readings updated by the minute to pilots in situations where every minute counts. Reliable and accurate weather data they can trust allowing them to make important decisions with confidence.
Reducing Annual Budgetary Costs and Providing Economic Growth Opportunities
- Automatic means just that, an automated system working 24/7 to monitor and report upon changing weather patterns at your airport without a designated staff required. This means approaching pilots are never left in a communication blind spot and an airport’s personnel are free to focus on additional tasks, thus lowering the day-to-day cost of weather monitoring with the quantitative difference between an observer and an automated observation being negligible and yielding remarkably similar results.
- Increased availability at your airport means an increase in air traffic and an increase in tax revenue. A Certified AWOS system keeps air traffic control and pilots one step ahead of changing weather and allows an airport to better plan and manage their incoming and outgoing air traffic. This preparation allows an airport to handle a greater number of daily flights safely. These flights mean more people passing through your airport and your community providing an overall boast to the local economy.
- Parts 91, 121, and 135 operators rely on AWOS as an approved source of weather data, especially when visibility is low and pilots are operating under instrument flight rules (IFR). Part 135 operators may not even depart for a destination airport unless the forecast weather there will allow an instrument approach and landing. Increased weather data with an FAA Certified AWOS means lower minimums, which means more aircraft may depart and arrive at your airport. If your weather data isn’t FAA approved, Part 135 operators can’t use it to determine if your airport is even an option for them.
Federal Aviation Administration Certified AWOS
Non-Federal AWOS are legally obligated to be maintained and operated at the same high standards as the Federally owned and operated AWOS systems. There are only four companies certified to manufacture FAA Certified AWOS and only two certified to manufacture AWOS-II or better. The FAA will not allow an airport to operate a non-Federally owned AWOS until it has been commissioned by the Non-Federal Program.
The Non-Federal Program oversees not only the AWOS system and its commissioning, operation, and maintenance but also regulates the non-Federally employed technicians who perform the scheduled maintenance. If a non-Federal AWOS does not comply with the Non-Federal Program, the FAA may shut down the system and it is recommended that an airport coordinate with the program before they begin the process of acquiring the addition of a new AWOS system to avoid costly mistakes.
Mesotech’s FAA Certified AWOS
Mesotech’s FAA Certified AWOS Airport Weather Advisor® uses the same display technology, data collection, and sensors as their military systems and is the only Non-Federal AWOS aviation system to offer hail and ice pellet detection capability. The system supports up to four telephone lines for dial-in reports and is the only AWOS with Internet of Things capability. Mesotech manufactures, delivers, installs, and supports their AWOS system for the duration of its life and offers free training with installation to regional independent maintainers as well as free tech support by email and phone. If you have any further questions regarding the benefits of an FAA Certified AWOS system over an AWOS alternative, please contact Mesotech today.