Aviation In Canada

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Canadian ATC Weather Radar, Part II

A couple of responses yesterday prompted this post, which is a little further on the subject brought up yesterday.

I'm not completely sure of the current plans for furthering ATC's weather capabilities. I know there are provisions for displaying "echo tops" to the controller, but that information isn't coming in yet and I don't know where it stands. Currently, we get a separate weather radar feed (original sources include Environment Canada and the US weather service), but this data is displayed on a separate monitor, and therefore little more than just information, since we can't compare it directly with aircraft positions on the radar screen we use. We can look at landmarks and sector boundaries and say that this particular blob of red, which is close to current but not necessarily, is in this general area, but a vector around it is hard to judge at best.

And that's about the extent of our weather information usage, including lightning. What we see is provided for flight information only. We will not, generally, vector an airplane around a blob of weather unless the pilot asks us to. We'll offer vectors, where practical, but the responsibility we have is limited to passing information about what we see, just the same as passing traffic information on a VFR in Class E airspace. If one airplane goes through it, damn near crashes coming out of it, we may very well take further action with the next airplane simply because we have an idea of its effect on flight safety, but until we know something substantial like that, it's only information to provide to the pilots.

Another comment that I received through other channels is important here. Someone poked at me, wonder why ATC would have allowed the aircraft into CYYZ with thunderstorms all around. His question was, "Why did the controllers even let that airplane in there?" He's a truck driver by trade, so I offered him an anedotal situation. I'm in the passenger seat of his truck on a delivery and, on a relatively narrow road, an old bridge comes into view. He plans to cross it. I, as the passenger, say, "I don't think that bridge will hold us. I don't want you to cross it," and asked him how he would feel about that. He said, "Don't tell me how or where to drive." And I said that captured things just about perfectly. It is my job as a controller to give the pilot what he wants to the best of my ability. I must provide him with what information I can to help him make his own decisions, but if he says, "I want to do this," and traffic and regulations permit it, then who am I to tell him, "No"? The pilot has the ultimate authority on what he wants to try. Period.