To provide more accurate information for airports across the country, the South African Weather Service (SAWS) has upgraded existing technology and implemented new weather-observing technology at all airports to detect harsh weather earlier.
“These systems include improvements on remote sensing equipment, such as satellite technology, which can detect rapidly developing thunderstorms. “The lightning detection network covers cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-ground lightning at all major airports in South Africa,” says SAWS unit manager Ntobeko Nkangane.
With improvements in technology – collecting real-time data remotely – satellite and radar enable the SAWS to differentiate between clouds and weather systems, which would not have been easily identifiable otherwise, he notes.
The SAWS aviation department – under the operations division – has also invested in Doppler and X-Band radars for the OR Tambo and Cape Town international airports, with Automated Weather Observing System running from mid-2000 and the improved radar system having been acquired in the beginning of 2010.
Radars detect thunderstorms, their movements and intensities, and are used by the SAWS to foreworn airports of severe thunderstorms.
The Doppler radar system is used in areas with a radius of up to 300 km, whereas X-Band radars are used for short-range weather observation. The latter technology is more sensitive and can even detect tiny water droplets.
In addition to improved safety, efficiency at airports has also improved, with fewer weather-related delays, and airports also having noted more economical operation since the implementation of the technologies, adds Nkangane.
He says the SAWS has aeronautical weather presence throughout the country in the form of forecasters and meteorological technicians, with SAWS at the forefront of acquiring any new technologies that also allow for improved lead times.
“Observations at airports take place at 30-minute or one-hour intervals, while forecast products are updated at regular intervals. “Terminal aerodrome forecasts (TAF) for international airports are issued once every six hours – 04:00UTC, 10:00UTC, 16:00UTC and 22:00UTC – and these TAFs are reviewed anytime as and when the original forecast conditions are significantly in error.”
At major airports, meteorological offices operate 24 hours a day, while the forecast products are also made available throughout the period.
Information is compiled and distributed by the Aviation Weather Centre at OR Tambo International Airport and the main forecasting centres at the airports in Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth.
Nkangane adds that the OR Tambo International Airport’s weather office is also a recognised meteorological watch office for international aviation, from South Africa to Antarctica.
The SAWS is one of the first meteorological organisations to have achieved ISO 9001 certification, Nkangane boasts.
“The quality management system (QMS) became a standard in November 2012 as per Amendment 76 to Annex 3, and the SAWS met this standard in 2012 prior to the deadline. “SAWS was recertified in August 2014 for the three-year period ending August 2018.”
He further explains that this happened during the period that PwC was still the certification body, with most of the national meteorological services for international air navigation not being ISO certified before QMS became a requirement in 2012.
“Our forecasters and meteorological technicians meet all of the requirements for the International Civil Aviation Organisation competency,” Nkangane concludes.