COMING SOON: Weather hunting on wings
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30 May 2019
Author :   Karitu Njagi
Flanked by Kenya Meteorological Department officials Charles Muga to the left and Charles Mwangi to the right, Ali B Ramtu, the Senior Acting Director in charge of aeronautical and meteorological services, shares with PAMACC how the Aircraft Meteorological Data Relay (AMDAR) system is likely to change the future of weather forecasting. The interview was held at the KMD offices on 07/05/2019. : >> Image Credits by:Karitu Njagi

Weather forecasting has never been an easy feat. Just as experts argue, it is the science of attempting to predict something that is inherently unpredictable. But technological advances are breaking new ground in terms of gathering more accurate data. One of these is using the Aircraft Meteorological Data Relay (AMDAR) system. ALI B RAMTU, the Senior Acting Director in charge of aeronautical and meteorological services at the Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD) shared with PAMACC how AMDAR might change this.

What is AMDAR?

AMDAR stands for Aircraft Meteorological Data Relay. This is an observation of meteorological parameters by aircraft when they are taking off, cruising and also landing.
They measure some of the meteorological parameters and then relay the data to KMD via servers.

This helps in embedding this information to other observations for better forecasting. It is an addition of the data observation network.

As you may know, KMD is currently relying on surface data observations from various weather stations.

KMD has quite a number of weather stations across the country. AMDAR will be a plus because it will provide some of the upper air observations that we lack at KMD to enhance our services.
It is also meant to improve products that we were giving to the aviation industry, Kenya Airways being one of them.

The aviation industry has challenges like experiencing fog in the morning. When this happens, they have to divert to other alternate airports and aerodromes. For that, they incur costs.

But with the improved product they will be alerted earlier. When they delay the flight by, say, 10 minutes to allow the fog to clear, then they will not incur those diversionary costs.

It is better to delay or cancel a flight and cut costs.

The other thing is that when data comes to our archive and system it will be fed to other sectors.

How long has AMDAR been operational?

AMDAR is not really new. Currently KMD is receiving some of the observations by AMDAR but not to the level that is adequate.

This is because there are few aircraft with the specific software and capability to provide this information. There are very few aircrafts in Kenyan airspace which have this capacity.
Bu with this kind of collaboration between Kenya Airways and KMD, we want to provide the capability to more aircrafts at the national carrier to be able to do the observation.

We are doing this by procuring some of the necessary software.

How are you procuring the software?

We are trying to procure the software through outsourcing.

There are some specific technology firms with this software whom we will enlist for this project.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has provided funds to KMD to facilitate procurement of this software from designated firms or companies.

The firms will install this technology in particular aircrafts at Kenya Airways.
This collaboration is between WMO, KMD and Kenya Airways. Each party is playing a role.

How much funding has been injected into this project?

I might not be in a position to give a particular figure. The finance team can do this.
But what we know is that WMO has partnered with KMD and Kenya Airways to provide funding.

This funding is not wholesome. It comes in bits as per how the project is progressing. Different aspects of this project are funded in phases.
There is the communication phase which involves installation of the servers and communication links.

There is the phase of purchasing of software to be installed in the aircrafts.
Then there will also be funding for training some of the experts who are supposed to handle this project.

These include information communication technology personnel, data processing personnel, forecasters, and even the technicians.

All these are embedded into the expense roll of this particular project.
The communication link between aircrafts and KMD servers is also another phase that is supposed to be funded.

It will come after the installation of software and other recurrent expenditure.

When did the partnership between KMD and Kenya Airways begin?

It started since 2015 when we had the first inception workshop.

What inspired this partnership?

It is a requirement for WMO member countries to be equipped with all hydrological and meteorological services. Innovation and technological advances improve weather forecasting.

There is also the need to enhance data acquisition. This is because the method we have been using of raising balloons was becoming too expensive for these services to be undertaken.

ut with this collaboration we can use aircraft to get the same data in the upper air without incurring costs that go with the radio sounding equipment.

What are some of the challenges you have gone through?

As you may know, KMD is a government agency.
There were lapses in the process of procuring some of the softwareafter the project was initiated.

This is because the firms which were supposed to provide the software for installation in the aircrafts were single sourced.

This has brought some hiccups which we are trying to see how we can overcome.
The government’s procuring process is different from Kenya Airways and other private companies.

Kenya Airways has been dealing with these firms. According to the rules and conditions, a third party cannot be brought into this process.

The firms which were doing maintenance at Kenya Airways are the same ones which are supposed to provide and install the software.

Immediately we overcome this bottleneck I am sure the process will move with the required success rate.

Some trainings have been done but others are yet to take place.

What is the timeline of the project?

It was supposed to be a two year project but we requested for an extension due to the above mentioned challenges.

The extension is for 15 months. The implementation phase started in 2017 and was supposed to end in December2019.

The 15 months extension will go up to December 2020. But we are yet to be granted that request.

What is your personal take about project?

As a Kenyan I will be very glad to receive an improved weather product and weather information which I am not provided with currently.

With initiation of this kind of project, I am sure there will be quite a number of weather products which will be beneficial not only to the aviation sector but to all sectors which rely on weather information and products.

It will improve the services atKMD and will actually enhance effectiveness in terms of serving Kenyans and all the cross cutting sectors.

KMD is an institution concerned with the environment. Each and every sector talks about the environment and climate change because these are cross cutting issues.

If we can be able to improve weather forecasting services, then definitely we will have improved all sectors of our economy.

All the forecasts rely on daily observations. It is these daily observations that are run for several years to give seasonal forecasts.

Information from the AMDAR system will improve daily forecasts, weekly forecasts and even seasonal forecasts with the passage of time.

As you know, weather has no boundaries. But with AMDAR we can be able to study it as an aircraft cruises all over space and provide that information to our servers.

We shall be in a better position to do air observations all over space. We will be able to know the effects of other weather systems which might affect Kenyans at large.

What are your closing remarks?

This is a very important project. It has its challenges but we will not tire. We will strive to better our services.

We trust our financiers to make this happen.

It will be successful and we hope even the government will embrace and hopefully, fund it.
This is especially in the areas of recurrent expenditure which are expected to increase as data continues trailing into our servers.

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