Friday, August 01, 2014

Kearney Regional (KEAR), Nebraska: Forecast service boosts airport safety

KEARNEY — Kearney Regional Airport now offers a specialized forecast service for commercial and private pilots.

On July 1, the airport began offering terminal aerodrome forecast, or TAF, service. The service provides wind, visibility, cloud height, weather and wind shear information for a 24-hour period. The forecast is updated every six hours, Jeff Halblaub, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hastings, said.

“This is a specialized forecast that we issue for pilots,” Halblaub said. “Everybody who flies in or out of Kearney will benefit from it.”

The forecast helps pilots determine cloud coverage and the height of clouds so that they know the rules to fly. For example, if there are no clouds and no restrictions to visibility, pilots can fly by sight. When visibility is reduced by snow, fog or other natural elements, pilots need to rely on aircraft instrumentation.

“That’s why the TAF is so critically important,” Halblaub said.

Until last month, Central Nebraska Regional Airport in Grand Island was the only airport receiving TAF service from the NWS Hastings office. In comparing volume numbers for both airports, the NWS and Federal Aviation Administration decided it would be valuable to also have the service in Kearney.

Kearney was the busiest airport in the state without TAF service, Halblaub said. Other regional airports receiving TAF service from other NWS offices are Valentine, Chadron, Alliance, Scottsbluff, Sidney, North Platte, Lincoln, Norfolk and Omaha.

“Ironically, there are airports in western Nebraska that are less busy than Kearney, but they’ve had TAF for a much longer time frame,” Halblaub said. “It just didn’t make sense that Kearney didn’t have one. The need was there.”

In the past, private pilots probably used TAF information from the Grand Island airport, Kearney Airport Manager Jim Lynaugh said. Having TAF service for Kearney will give those pilots a better idea of conditions closer to home.

“As far as aviation, it gives us a clearer picture for our area, versus the TAF for Grand Island 40 miles away,” Lynaugh said. “It’s more dedicated to our area. It’s a good weather forecasting tool for pilots for the immediate future.”

The service is provided free of charge and produced by meteorologists in the NWS Hastings office, which gives pilots the benefit of NWS tools and knowledge, Halblaub said.

“We’re the local experts for the weather here,” Halblaub said. “We know what weather patterns result in what winds and things of that nature. We have a whole host of tools and weather information that aid us in developing this TAF.”

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