South Carolina installs state-wide AWOS

The Aeronautics Division of South Carolina’s Department of Commerce recently inked a contract with Vaisala to install Automated Weather Observing Systems (AWOS) at nine airports across the state, as well as update existing systems. The contract is worth more than $1 million.

There’s no doubt the investment will pay off, says Michael O’Donnell, executive director of the aeronautics division.

“It all boils down to safety,” he says. “The dissemination of real-time weather data to pilots is so important.”

But there’s another benefit: Many corporate pilots won’t fly into airports that don’t have real-time weather, which negatively impacts businesses in those communities. “These airports will now be able to accept corporate jets,” he says.

The airports chosen for the new AWOS include: Beaufort County, Berkeley, Conway, Chester, Laurens, Marion, Newberry, Santee Cooper and Williamsburg County. Airports that will get retrofits are still being determined, notes Stephanie Haynes, Vaisala sales manager.

Pilots recognize the huge safety factor of real-time weather at airports, she says. What they may not realize is that this information creates “greater availability” of the airports, she adds.

South Carolina’s contract creates a new state AWOS program for Vaisala, which specializes in creating and managing statewide aviation weather programs, with 16 programs nationwide.

The importance of state-wide AWOS programs can’t be emphasized enough, according to Vaisala’s Haynes.

“The consistency of weather data across the state is critical to safety,” she says.

O’Donnell agrees. “The state has the wherewithal to fund the system, where an individual airport operator might not be able to afford to install or maintain a system and may decommission it,” he notes.

With the state’s investment, real-time weather should be available across South Carolina. “We’ll have fairly good coverage,” O’Donnell says. Many places will have real-time weather for the first time, while in other places, pilots will be able to pick up weather from multiple sites.

The new systems also will tie into the National Airspace Data Interchange Network, which aids in the exchange of information throughout the aviation community. Many of the older systems, designated for retrofit, did not tie into this system. Those systems also were not as useful, with some unable to detect lightning, he adds.

The new AWOS should be installed by the end of this year. A timetable is being devised, Haynes says, noting that the company is waiting to receive frequency allocations from the Federal Communications Commission.

The FAA already has approved sites for most of the locations of the new AWOS. The equipment must be at least 500 feet from a runway, so pilots shouldn’t be inconvenienced during the installation periods, she notes. It usually takes about a week to install the systems, then it takes another week or so for the FAA to check the systems before they can become operational.

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