Planes had weather radars for a long time (Dassault Falcon and Learjet35A) which was useful since you either had to ask ATC, listen the ATIS frequency or ask the flight advisory before flight planning in order to learn the weather.

But we are living at a time of two way transponder communications and more and more of the world (At least the USA) are employing more weather stations and satellites are continously monitoring the world which makes the weather information more and more accessible and in flight Wi-Fi finally arrived!

So. are there plans about sending weather information through two way transponders in the future? Will this hamper the importance of weather radars?

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    $\begingroup$ NTSB put out a safety alert after the delay in in-flight broadcast weather was implicated as a factor in 2 fatal accidents. It is not a replacement for weather radar! $\endgroup$ – user71659 May 20 '19 at 4:53

In the USA, planes with ADS-B can receive FAA transmitted weather from ground stations for display in the cockpit. It can lag by several minutes. https://www.faa.gov/nextgen/programs/adsb/pilot/

Planes with XM weather can receive more timely weather from satellite feed for display in the cockpit.

Airborne radar has the advantage of being the most immediate, but you may not be able to see much past what is immediately in front of you, so combining that with ground/satellite feed to give you a view of what is farther ahead would be the best of both.

I have ADS-B in my plane, but I don't do any extreme weather flying, just climbing thru cloud layers to get to nicer weather on top, or dropping thru a layer to land. I'm not out there trying to dodge thunderstorms and heavy rainstorms. If the weather is that bad, I can wait it out.


Since both ground based and airborne weather radar is all about bouncing radio waves off water, the issue is, do you want to send the radio waves from your airplane or from a ground antenna somewhere in the region. Well, there are advantages and disadvantages to both; one presents a weather "big picture", the other tells you what is going on right in front.

If you have choose, you want an airborne system because that's what is best able to keep you out of trouble right now. Pilots flying IFR without weather radar could rely on ATC's weather radar for guidance in staying away from severe weather, but this was never considered optimal and airborne radar has always been preferred.

The Storm Scope thunderstorm detection system, that locates and maps lightning strikes, came out in the 70s as a way for light aircraft that couldn't install airborne radar to dodge cells with higher confidence than just advice from ATC. It has its own deficiencies because the really bad stuff is usually associated with water more than electrical charges so Storm Scope couldn't always be depended on the keep you out of the worst of a storm, although it was better than nothing.

I'd say that what you WILL see though (or are seeing already) is a seamless integration of airborne and ground weather radar via various data channels, as well as electrical storm activity, into aircraft displays, to provide the accurate possible presentation.


What I also foresee is the integration of information coming from:

  • Airborne weather radar
  • Ground based terminal radars
  • Satellite radars
  • Other sources like LiDAR or thermal sensors.

Each of them has advantages and disadvantages. For example, one of the most dangerous disadvantages of airborne radars is the "attenuation", which hides the weather behind a strong signal. There has been accidents in the past directly related to this limitation.

The radar technology itself has a huge limitation to detect certain types of dangerous weather conditions, for example ice crystals, even in high concentrations.

In order to overcome such limitations, the future weather systems most probably will relay and integrate radar along with other technologies like LiDAR (Laser Imaging Detection and Ranging). There is a lot of research nowadays using LiDAR to study weather, it wouldn't be a surprise to see that in the aviation industry in the near future.

  • $\begingroup$ I didn't knew LIDAR was being developed. thanks for bringing information and good luck in the site!. $\endgroup$ – Delta Oscar Uniform May 19 '19 at 20:19
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    $\begingroup$ It is quite an interesting technology that also can help to predict turbulence: link $\endgroup$ – Fco May 19 '19 at 23:35

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