Preventing the next AF 447-style crash

Unless I've missed it in my time away from the internets, no one yet knows exactly what happened to Air France flight 447 over the Atlantic Ocean six weeks ago. But whatever went wrong, the problems were almost certainly related to the plane's having flown into the middle of a powerful thunderstorm. (As discussed here, here, here, and here, and illustrated by this match of the plane's route to reconstructed weather data.)
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Why did the pilots find themselves (and their passengers) there? Mainly because NEXRAD-style displays like the one above simply don't exist in real time for weather over the oceans. They depend on readings from ground-based radar stations, which obviously are scarce in the open seas. As one correspondent pointed out in a previous post, "You know what we (meteorologists) call the oceanic regions? The big blue data void."

Comes now NASA with a research project designed to "provide aircraft with updates about severe storms and turbulence as they fly across remote ocean regions." Further details here. Sounds good to me. For an idea of what the planes are hoping to avoid, via NASA here is an astronaut's view of a thunderstorm near Brazil.
365724main_convection-STS-516.jpg
 
Airline safety usually advances, as in this case, in a learning-from-the-latest-disaster fashion. Sounds like a good project to me.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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