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Southwest Airlines flights were delayed and cancelled this week due to an outage in their third-party weather provider. I understand if they have a streamlined business process for getting weather data to their pilots, but is that really the only way for them to get their en route/destination weather? Is there a reason they can't obtain and use the same type of briefing a GA pilot would use?

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    $\begingroup$ It would've been great if every single Southwest Pilot started calling 1-800-WX-BRIEF for a detailed telephone briefing. :) $\endgroup$
    – abelenky
    Jun 16 at 19:31
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    $\begingroup$ My understanding is that pilots may not, but the dispatchers need winds aloft information to avoid sending aircraft against 150 knot headwind and to generally optimize fuel burn. And this is a lot of data, so it needs to be fed into the dispatcher's computer and if it's not coming, the dispatch system is only half-usable and then flight plans are not prepared in time. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Jun 16 at 19:53
  • $\begingroup$ Most GA pilots don't spend much time around 30,000 feet. And I expect that (except for takeoff & landing, of course) most airline pilots don't care what's happening down here close to the ground :-) $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Jun 17 at 6:13
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Airlines operate under the requirements of their Operations Specifications, or OpSpecs. One of these will state what the approved sources of weather information are. For a large airline, that weather provider will be providing weather to the pilots and to the dispatchers, ensuring that everybody has accurate & current info. Most of the time, what you can get from any number of internet weather sites will basically match what you get from your airline, but the requirement is there so that the crews are always getting the same good info as the dispatchers.

And when you aren't getting that info from the approved source, per the OpSpec, you can't operate (unless there is a backup source that's approved).

On a clear day, it probably wouldn't much matter where you got the info -- "no alternate required, destination is landing to the west, 30 knot headwind in cruise, okay let's go." But the system and the requirements are set up to keep things safe even when conditions aren't all benign. And the uniform requirement is, get your weather from an approved source, and only then, you can launch.

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Airlines usually use a third party (although Northwest infamously used their internal weather department) to get their weather because there's so much data to be obtained.

In the Center, we aggregate weather data from the NWS and NOAA that includes METARs, TAFs, SIGMETs, etc., as well as upper air data (GRIB format), GOES, and NEXRAD. Airlines do the same.

They typically fly longer routes than GA aircraft, at higher altitudes, and have larger fuel concerns.

It makes sense for them to suspend operations if they can't get that data.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't think it would make sense to suspend operations in that case—it's still cheaper to load some extra fuel than cancel the flight and have to reroute everybody. More likely the lack of the data made the dispatch system partly inoperable and they were not able to dispatch the flights in time. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Jun 21 at 13:33
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    $\begingroup$ Still, many airlines would suspend operations until they could get concrete data. The prospect of holding for 45 minutes over for a thunderstorm at Denver and diverting to your alternate is less desirable than waiting on the ground at Albuquerque $\endgroup$
    – atc_ceedee
    Jun 21 at 18:23
  • $\begingroup$ It is, but checking whether there are likely to be any storms in the way is the easy part that can be managed with any internet connection. You can actually get the winds aloft that way too (there is a couple of sites that show model output including winds at ~FL300 and ~FL400), but without integration that part is effectively useless. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Jun 21 at 19:34

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