Metro Aviation is embarking on a year-long project to test the capabilities of an FAA weather camera at its Ann Arbor base serving the University of Michigan’s Survival Flight. Metro operates 30 to 45 flights each month out of Ann Arbor and cancels up to 15 percent of them due to inadequate or misleading weather reports, the company said.
“As an operator, our priority is safety and we are relying on the data we have to make sound decisions,” said Brian Bihler, Metro’s director of operations. “But if the data we have isn’t accurate, we are likely canceling flights that we could have otherwise accepted.”
Metro pilots at Ann Arbor currently use off-hospital automated surface observing systems (ASOS) to obtain weather data, which provides varying levels of accuracy. The hospital does not have its own weather reporting system and relies on an ASOS that sits in a valley five miles away. “The way [that ASOS] sits, it gives off lower-than-perceived visibility reports,” said Laennec Ratard, an FAA flight standards employee and principal operations inspector overseeing Metro. Ratard believes the skewed data is leading to unnecessary flight cancellations.
The FAA began its weather camera program in 1999 in Alaska and has since expanded it, working with state governments in Colorado, Hawaii, and Montana. Metro is the first non-governmental entity to participate in the program. If successful at Ann Arbor, Metro plans to offer weather cameras to all of its remaining 38 helicopter air ambulance programs at more than 140 bases across the country.