American Airlines Unveils New System for Pilots to Avoid Turbulence

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NBC 5 got a first-hand look at a turbulence avoidance system called TAPS inside American Airlines' integrated operations center in Fort Worth. (Published Tuesday, Nov 26, 2013)

    American Airlines is using a new turbulence detection software to help their pilots avoid bumpy patches of air.

    The airline has installed TAPS (Turbulence Automated PIREP System) on 364 of its planes. The system provides real-time data on conditions in the air and in flight, and sends the information to crews on the ground.

    Currently, AA’s 757s, 767-300s, and 737s are equipped with the system. The planes fly domestic and international routes. A spokeswoman for the airline declined to say how much the software cost the carrier.

    Jim Eastin, the manager at AA’s Integrated Operations Center, said the new software allows real-time collection of data that can be sent to other planes in the air.

    The software on the planes collects data that tracks just how little or how violent a plane shakes during turbulence. That data can be used to warn other planes about choppy air and give pilots enough time to choose a new flight path.

    “If a dispatcher is working a particular area, maybe he has numerous flights on the same route, the first flight that starts to show any kind of blips on the TAPS screen, then they can immediately pass that down the line to 29 other flights and keep them in the clear air,” Eastin said. “If we start to see something of moderate level turbulence, then we can immediately broadcast out to all of our airplanes, like text messaging."

    Captain David Clark, a senior manager in the AA Flight Operations division, said the information can reach pilots in less than a minute and allow flight crews to make a more informed decision on choosing a flight path in stormy weather.

    Clark said the old method of collecting data was subjective.

    "For a long time, we have been gauging turbulence by the seat of our pants,” Clark said. “As we unexpectedly fly through turbulence, we make an assessment based on experience."

    But with TAPS, turbulence levels are assigned measurements. That helps pilots and crews make decisions for other planes. It also helps decide if turbulence was violent enough to inspect the plane.

    TAPS maps can show ground crews weather events as a plane passes through them. Icons pop up on a map, which describe the weather event in detail. The software can read the altitude, wind speed, time of report, degree of turbulence, as well as what type of plane.

    Clark said next to GPS, the TAPS system is one of the most significant tools in the cockpit.

    We would like to give our passengers the most comfortable ride possible. The magic carpet ride if we can. So having this information gives us that much more detailed knowledge of the environment we fly in,” Clark said.

    American officials say the next step in using the TAPS system could happen as early as next year. If the FAA allows wifi in the cockpit, pilots would be able to use their iPads to track TAPS incidents and make a decision in seconds on a flight path to avoid turbulence.