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Big business

Where does your weather info come from?

When you get weather information, you may not think much about where it originates. Sure, there’s the government’s Leidos Flight Service-provided briefing products via 1-800-WXBRIEF, 1800wxbrief.com, and flight service frequencies, plus the weather services provided by Garmin Pilot, FltPlan.com, and ForeFlight. But there’s a whole world of weather services out there, and weather is a big business.
Ray Reher, a volunteer pilot for Flights for Life,attempts to fly blood to Flagstaff, AZ but is forced to turn back due to weather.
Deer Valley Airport (DVT)
Phoenix, AZ USA

The corporate giant IBM has bought into the weather business. In 2016, IBM bought The Weather Company (TWC, not to be confused with The Weather Channel)—aptly named because of its wide range of weather-related business units. One of them, WSI Corporation, provides weather forecasts and other products out of its eight forecast offices around the world. The main office is in Andover, Massachusetts, where 14 forecasters work. Others are in Atlanta; Seoul, South Korea; Tokyo; and Birmingham, England.

The Weather Company puts out terminal aerodrome forecasts (TAFs) for airports all over the world, updating them in five-minute intervals using 100 different weather models as well its own proprietary model—IBM GRAF (Global High-Resolution Atmospheric Forecasting). In all, TWC puts out forecasts for 2.2 billion locations around the globe—every 15 minutes.

Another WSI asset is TAPS—the Turbulence Auto-Pirep System. TAPS is a turbulence information-sharing system between some 1,000 participating aircraft and a TWC algorithm. Using an airplane’s ACARS (Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System) datalink messaging service, TAPS compares forecast with real-time turbulence, generates turbulence updates, and sends them back to the participating aircraft for more accurate predictions affecting their routes.

Pilotbrief is marketed as WSI Pilotbrief Optima and is available on the internet as well as in iPad or other electronic flight bag formats through Wi-Fi connections, as well as to FBOs. Oh, and an adaptation of Pilotbrief Optima is used on AOPA’s weather website (aopa.org/wx).

Buying TWC also gave IBM the Weather Underground (“Wunderground”) app, a crowdsourcing feed that collects data from more than 100,000 personal weather stations. TWC feeds this data into its both the app and its models.

The IBM purchase gave TWC WSI’s aviation weather feed, including its datalinked weather radar imagery—which provides both base and composite reflectivity products, along with the CIP and FIP icing data stream, METARs, TAFs, and other government-produced aviation weather products. WSI mosaics the radar imagery then sends the feed to GA pilots for distribution through the SiriusXM Aviation’s Pilot Pro, Pilot Preferred, or Pilot Express weather subscription service levels. This service is only compatible with newer panel-mounted datalink receivers, like the Garmin GDL 69/69A SXM—or iPads via Bluetooth connection to portable receivers like Garmin’s GDL 50/51/52.

Another GA datalink weather provider is Baron Services, which provides radar imagery and other weather data to owners of older datalink receivers.

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AOPA Partner SiriusXM Aviation partners with AOPA to give members a free two-month trial. aopa.org/siriusxm

Thomas A. Horne

Thomas A. Horne

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne has worked at AOPA since the early 1980s. He began flying in 1975 and has an airline transport pilot and flight instructor certificates. He’s flown everything from ultralights to Gulfstreams and ferried numerous piston airplanes across the Atlantic.

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