Space Science & Space Physics Editors' Vox

Space Weather Aviation Forecasting on a Global Scale

Under a new mandate, consortia of the world’s major space weather centers will disseminate new space-weather advisories for civil aviators representing a significant change-of-state for space weather.

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On November 7, 2019, in response to an International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) mandate, the world’s major space weather centers will start issuing global advisories related to disruptions in: high-frequency radio communications; communications via satellite; Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS)-based navigation and precision location; and enhanced radiation risk to aircraft occupants.

As indicated by the “I” in ICAO, these new forecasting efforts transcend national boundaries. Primary responsibility for the global-24/7, watch, and advisory duties will rotate bi-weekly among the space weather centers [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2019].

Initially, this will involve a trio of global service providers: NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) in the United States, the Pan-European Consortium for Aviation Space Weather User Services (PECASUS), and the consortium of Australia, Canada, France, and Japan (ACFJ). Additional consortia may be added to the roster of global services providers in the future.

In a real sense this represents a ‘change-of-state’ for the space weather discipline, thus aligning the discipline with expectations from the meteorology community. While space weather has been part of military aviation mission-planning for some time, civil aviators have not had consistent, world-wide access to space weather information.

ICAO recognizes that better preparing flight crews, operators, air-navigation service providers, and civil aviation authorities for potential impacts of space weather will improve safety and efficiency of aviation operations. Thus, ICAO is establishing unified advisory thresholds and dissemination procedures [ICAO, 2018].

These unified-threshold products are approximately 100 years in the making. World War I saw the first use of aviation wireless transmissions, leading to a strong post-war interest in radio communications. In 1919 the Union Radio Scientifique Internationale (URSI) was created to study radio science and radio-telegraphy. Radio communications ‘effects’ from sunspots and electric and magnetic disturbances in Earth’s upper atmosphere were apparent. URSI inaugurated a daily service of radio (dot-dash) bulletins broadcast from France’s Eiffel tower in 1928. One year later the United States replicated the service for land, marine and aerial needs [Kennelly, 1937]. In 1939 The US Department of Commerce, National Bureau of Standards–Radio Section initiated a formal service for forecasting radio transmission information and maximum useable frequencies [Gilliland et al., 1939; Caldwell et al., 2017]. Eos, Transactions of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) first published the principle method to forecast the monthly mean sunspot number, then a key parameter for high frequency radio propagation, in 1949 [McNish & Lincoln, 1949].

Subsequently during wartime and peacetime, aviation has flourished. Flight safety is now tightly coupled to aviation communication, positioning, tracking and avionics integrity, all of which can suffer from solar-terrestrial disturbances. In this century the World Meteorological Organization recognized that aircraft operating in newly opened polar routes could be subject to solar radiation storms that could affect ‘health, communication and the global positioning system’.

Since 2002 stakeholders have convened dozens of international meetings to assist ICAO in enhancing global civil aviation safety and efficiency.

As a result, ICAO has structured a space weather advisory system that will be used by the national forecasting agencies, federal and international civil aviation authorities, domestic and international commercial airlines, and private companies.

AGU is a staunch supporter and publisher of research that has elevated space weather as a discipline, especially in Space Weather journal. As the space weather advisories are integrated into the global aviation system there will likely be new opportunities to research: unanticipated geophysical conditions reported by aviators, radiation effects on humans and avionics, and the scope of radio disruptions on aviation radars, communication and navigation.

No doubt, space weather benchmarking efforts will benefit from such information (e.g., US National Science and Technology Council, 2015). New research and benchmarking will support a realistic, integrated assessment of impacts on the portfolio of technologies used in civil aviation. We anticipate fruitful research partnerships as the new space weather advisory system takes form and the space weather forecasting advances to a new state.

—Delores J. Knipp ([email protected];  0000-0002-2047-5754) and Michael A. Hapgood ( 0000-0002-0211-0241), Editors, Space Weather

Citation: Knipp, D. J., and M. Hapgood (2019), Space weather aviation forecasting on a global scale, Eos, 100, Published on 14 October 2019.
Text © 2019. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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