MINNEAPOLIS -- A computerized system developed by Northwest Airlines to help pilots plot and fly around relatively localized areas of turbulence has received special recognition by Air Transport World magazine.
''The system has enabled Northwest to achieve a turbulence avoidance record that is the envy of the industry,'' said J.A. Donoghue, ATW editor-in-chief.
Northwest will be honored Feb. 21 at the magazine's annual awards dinner in Singapore.
The Turbulence Plot System has been evolving since October 1968, when Northwest began hand-plotting and reporting turbulence information to flight crews by voice on radio.
Northwest's 25 meteorologists -- 16 in North America and nine in Asia -- now use a variety of high-tech tools to continuously monitor the atmosphere, producing forecasts and reports of eight weather hazards that are automatically stored, distributed and displayed to both dispatchers and pilots.
The hazards are thunderstorms, mountain wave turbulence, clear air turbulence, low-altitude frontal windshear, low-altitude convective windshear, volcanic ash, ozone and icing.
The information makes is easier to avoid bumpy air and other situations that can be dangerous or uncomfortable for passengers, said Tom Fahey, Northwest's meteorology manager since 1990.
Northwest has signed a contract with ARINC under which that Annapolis, Md., company pays Northwest for rights to distribute the system to other airlines, including Northwest's competitors, Fahey said.
''Northwest recognizes that this is helpful information that could be potentially beneficial to other airlines. We have found a way to make this available to any other carrier that is interested in it,'' Fahey said.
''Continental is starting within the next couple of weeks. Alaska Airlines has used it for a couple of years. Mesaba Airlines and Express Airlines I will start next month,'' Fahey said. Legend Airlines, Piedmont Airlines and Virgin Atlantic Airways also have signed up, he said.
With the system, dispatchers at Northwest's operations control center in Minneapolis-St. Paul and its operations control center in Narita, Japan, continually receive graphical displays and text descriptions of turbulence throughout Northwest's route system. They use the data in preflight planning.
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