TRACON Controller Weather Information Needs

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Authors: Ulf Ahlstrom, PhD.

Ahlstrom, U. (2004). TRACON controller weather information needs: II. Cognitive work analysis (DOT/FAA/CT-TN04/09). Atlantic City International Airport, NJ: Federal Aviation Administration William J. Hughes Technical Center.


The main purpose of the present study is to assess the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) weather information needs. An additional objective is to assess the flow of weather information within the TRACON environment and the impact on controller and pilot operations during adverse weather conditions. The study used the framework of Cognitive Work Analysis where we included both environmental (terminal domain) and operational (controller - pilot) constraints in the analysis (Vicente, 1999). The Mission Need Statement for Aviation Weather (FAA, 2002) served as the foundation for the weather-needs analysis. The Human Factors Group assembled a group with five TRACON controllers and six airline pilots for the collection of weather impact data.

During the group sessions, they discussed weather phenomena and the impact on controller and pilot operations. The Human Factors specialist encouraged group members to discuss specific real-life encounters and assessed the topics from both the controller's and the pilot's perspective. They also provided numeric (ordinal) ratings of impact from weather phenomena when appropriate. All ratings were consensus ratings (group ratings) that followed a detailed and complete discussion of each topic. For controller operations, the group provided the highest impact ratings for thunderstorms, snow and ice, and airport reconfiguration due to changing winds.

For pilot operations, The group provided the highest impact ratings for thunderstorms, wind shear, microbursts, snow and ice, and mountain wave. The present analysis reveals several information needs for the TRACON controller. Specifically, there is a lack of a graphical display of weather areas with short-time forecast capabilities at the controller workstation. For non-convective turbulence and adverse winds, there is a shortfall in the accuracy of available tools.