Established in 1854, the Meteorological Office (Met Office) is the UK's national weather service. People around the world look to the Met Office for weather and climate-related data. With its commitment to accuracy and innovation, the Met Office utilises advanced technology and scientific research to assist governmental decision-making and issue weather warnings to the public.

    Challenge

    Access to accurate meteorological forecasts is crucial in the aviation industry. Weather hazards such as turbulence, icing, convective storms, volcanic activity, cyclones and nuclear events all have a significant impact on the comfort, timing and ultimate safety of a flight.

    In the early 1980s, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) developed requirements for the World Area Forecast System (WAFS) to include the forecasting of upper air winds, temperatures and significant weather hazards1. The result was the WAFS Significant Weather (SIGWX) charts. These charts are used by airlines, air traffic control and national Met services to assess the weather conditions impacting flight plans, identifying the location of the jet stream and areas of potentially hazardous weather that could pose risk.

    As one of only two World Area Forecast Centres in the world, the Met Office is responsible for providing WAFS forecasts. However, as of 2024, this is still a manual process, involving a team of meteorologists laboriously extracting data from the Met Office supercomputer and producing charts by hand every six hours. These forecasts are then uploaded to the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) for registered users to access, with permission. As well as this process taking up valuable meteorologist time, the Met Office was struggling to maintain this bank of experts.

    Another issue was that the current system was restricted to producing 24-hour forecasts – for example, a 6:00 AM model run could only produce a forecast for 6:00 AM the next day. This top-line view no longer met the needs of the aviation industry, particularly for short-haul and ultra-long-haul flight planning.

    The Met Office needed to automate this decades-old process to ensure weather-related data is delivered to the right people, in the right format, at the right time to increase the safety and carbon efficiency of flight planning, as well as improve the customer experience.

    Having originally partner with BJSS in 2018, in 2022 the Met Office challenged BJSS to help futureproof the SIGWX system, transform the legacy FTP-based forecasting process and manual forecast creation to enhance the delivery of crucial information to the aviation industry. The project had three key objectives:

    • Automation: To remove reliance on human intervention for the production of global significant weather forecasts.
    • Increased detail: To enable more granular forecasting for more regular timesteps, and greater customisation of data reports.
    • Regulatory compliance: To ensure the new system complies with guidance to move to Application Programming Interface (API) and meets industry regulations – specifically System-Wide Information Management (SWIM) regulation.

    “As a hybrid delivery between BJSS and Met Office, engineers from both sides needed to move quickly and develop close working relationships across the two organisations. The experience and professionalism the BJSS software developers brought from day one paved the way to success. Working with senior stakeholders to establish trust and transparency, BJSS helped us develop ‘right first time’, meeting user and regulatory needs in a complex and highly specialised domain.”

     

    James McBean, Senior Delivery Manager, Met Office

    Solution

    BJSS worked collaboratively with Met Office in a hybrid model partnership, with a mix of management consultants, business analysts, software engineers, developers and testers.

    The BJSS team collaborated with Met Office Scientists and Product Owners on a rapid discovery phase to establish a plan for the system architecture, define a product roadmap, select tooling and agree the delivery sequence. By involving Met Office subject matter experts early, BJSS achieved early buy-in to the plan, ensured a risk-first approach to delivery and reduced uncertainty of solution development.

    BJSS takes pride in its approach to both human-centred design and lean product delivery; focused on delivering tangible benefits to end users, fast. BJSS collaborated with Met Office to tailor these approaches to meet Met Office design principles and framework which include Design for security, Design reducing architectural complexity, and Design for Re-use. This enabled the best of both approaches to be integrated into delivery.

    The team also introduced BJSS ways of working, including continuous integration and continuous delivery/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines, release plans and test strategies. The teams also followed BJSS Enterprise Agile-inspired delivery principles, which include rapid feedback cycles with stakeholders and end users, regular system demos (open to all stakeholders), robust spiking of technical risk areas to uncover/close risks early and a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) approach.

    BJSS also brought significant cloud transformation expertise and leveraged their AWS partnership to ensure all designs met the AWS Well-Architected Framework. Given the sensitivity of the data, BJSS put in place industry best-in-class information security standards (including OWASP security standards) alongside Met Office Security practices, managing potential risk and vulnerabilities across Met Office and end-users. This level of assurance built trust in the approach and solution, ensured it is compliant with industry regulation (e.g. SWIM) and helped increase adoption across the user base.

    By challenging the client to take a Minimum Viable Product approach to delivery, BJSS enabled Met Office to deliver the new SIGWX system in just 12 months.

    “It is the example of an Agile and People-Led culture of development that I have been looking for (as a Senior Product Manager and Service Owner) in order to evidence best practice across the Product Management Profession at the Met Office and wider. So that we can do better at what we do.”

     

    David Sutton, Senior Product Manager, Met Office

    Outcomes

    Hosted on Amazon Web Services (AWS), the new SIGWX system uses Met Office science code to automate the production of forecasts in the ICAO Meteorological Information Exchange Model (IWXXM) data format for reporting aviation weather information along with PNG charts. For the first time, SIGWX forecasts will be provided at three-hour intervals across a 48-hour window and rationalised into a single product spanning FL100 to FL600 (flight levels between 10,000 and 60,000 feet).

    The new solution replaces the legacy FTP with an API system that is compliant with both SWIM regulation and engineering data records (EDR). Rather than users having to request information from the Met Office platform, they can now receive automatic, tailored updates.

    The project is currently in the Public Beta phase and is already increasing the accessibility of global weather data across the world, bringing positive significant impact for the Met Office, airlines, flight planners and flight data management companies.

    The project exceeded all three core objectives and delivered a wealth of additional benefits:

    Automation: The new SIGWX solution has successfully removed the need for human intervention in the forecasting process, saving significant time for Met Office Scientists who can now focus on more valuable tasks. Operating in the cloud enables the Met Office to deliver the new, much larger, WAFS data sets to users more effectively and reliably. Users will soon be able to receive automatic updates every few hours, ultimately allowing them to make quicker informed decisions.

    Increased detail: This solution enables more granular weather forecasting, producing data for 15 timesteps per forecast model run compared to the previous singular 24-hour snapshot. This will enable much more accurate flight planning, particularly for short-haul and ultra-long-haul flights, with users able to see how weather patterns are predicted to progress over 48 hours.

    In the legacy system, users had a limited choice of what they could download. Now, users will have the ability to subscribe to the specific data streams that are relevant to them as well as tailoring their own map area to cover their specific flight information region, improving accuracy.

    Regulatory compliance: SIGWX is the first big SWIM-compliant project of its kind. Adhering to these requirements will help to drive consistency across the aviation industry, ensuring all programs can communicate with one another and decision-makers have access to the same information.

    Efficiency and fuel cost savings: The SIGWX solution will enable more efficient planning. More accurate forecasting will enable aircraft to capitalise on favourable jet streams for optimal fuel efficiency while also providing critical warnings about potential hazards to mitigate disruption, delivering a significant benefit to Met Office customers.

    Increased safety: Ultimately, this solution will help prevent accidents and protect lives. Identifying potential hazards is crucial for safety – from turbulence, cloud cover and severe icing to volcanic activity, cyclones and nuclear events. Information on tropopause heights, for example, not only leads to a more efficient and comfortable flight but is critical in ensuring safer flying conditions. In fact, the forecast can predict icing areas globally, previously this was limited to a regional forecast.

    Sustainability: The Met Office collaborates with various international organisations on climate research, and tracking this data plays a vital role in understanding climate change. For example, tropopause heights are being impacted by climate change. Also, SIGWX forecasts allow for more efficient flight paths, exploiting positive weather conditions to reduce flight times and use less fuel.

    As the aviation industry rapidly evolves these new and improved data sets will contribute towards limiting the environmental impact of air travel, coping with increased traffic and capacity demands and helping air traffic management strategies to improve flight safety by avoiding hazardous weather conditions – ultimately decreasing the risk of disasters and protecting lives.

    “The new multi-timestep SIGWX forecasts provide airlines and pilots with enhanced situational awareness of difficult weather conditions which enables them to take mitigating actions and minimise accidents and difficult flying conditions. SIGWX forecasts also help airlines to take advantage of favourable flying conditions, reducing flight times, which brings economic, convenience and sustainability benefits.”

     

    Karen Shorey, International Aviation Manager, Met Office

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