View Full Version : Met Observations at LHR

20th Nov 2004, 21:15
I was chatting to a friend recently and was told that the METARs at Heathrow which I understand are done at the moment by Met Office staff as qualified Met Observers are to be replaced by ATC personnel. I have the highest regard for the ATC staff at LHR as one who flies regularly in and out of LHR, however as I understand it the ATC staff who will undertake this duty are not going to be trained by the Met Office as Met Observers which means that they undertake a two week course at Exeter, but undergo an 8 hour CBT course followed by 8 hours practical training for reasons of "Economy". Their duties will be backed up by an semi-automated system which does some of the observations, but the human will have the final decision about the METAR. I mean no disrespect to the staff concerned, but I would like the ATIS observation to be done by someone who has done an "approved" course and therefore I am able to quantify the observation. I also wondered about Approach minima and the "status" of LVPs. I wondered what other crews thought about this or am I being unduly worried.

Scottie Dog
20th Nov 2004, 21:36
There have been discussions in the thread about the new tower at LHR. So if nobody gives you a full reply here, then you can look at - or place your input into the original thread.


The met part starts on 30th October with a posting by Gonzo.

20th Nov 2004, 21:39
What you will find is that the obs may be done by SAMOS (semi automatic met observation system) which is confirmed/validated or amended by a met observation trained ATSA (assistant) and not the ATCOs. This is standard practice across most NATS units. EGLC have the ATCOs verifying the SAMOS.

These observations are forwarded to the centrak met office out of which they create the forecasts.

Use of official met staff is too expensive!!:{

21st Nov 2004, 07:55
I being unduly worried Probably, yes. As has been pointed out, it's not uncommon these days and at most UK airports where NATS isn't contracted to supply ATC, ATC staff have done met obs for years (20+ in some cases).

As for approach minima and LVPs, I don't think you need to worry. There is no evidence that where obs are done by non-Met Office staff that the quality of reports is significantly different to those done by Met Office staff. In poor wx RVR is done the same way as it always has been and is provided direct to the controller rather than coming via the met observer.

21st Nov 2004, 08:29
<<There is no evidence that where obs are done by non-Met Office staff that the quality of reports is significantly different to those done by Met Office staff. In poor wx RVR is done the same way as it always has been and is provided direct to the controller rather than coming via the met observer.>>

It's the cloud bit for LVPs which I understand may cause problems... Met Observing is much like ATC - it needs constant practice to become really efficient. I was one of the first UK ATCOs to be trained as a Met Observer and despite many weeks of working alongside the experts I had great difficulty with some aspects of the task.

I personally think it's ludicrous that major UK airports do not retain a full Met Office such as existed when I started at Heathrow. All down to the bean-counters..

21st Nov 2004, 09:56
Thanks for your replies. If I were the LHR Tower ATSA though I would feel happier if I had done a full Met Observers course though rather than an 18 hour abridged version, even if it cost more money just for my own peace of mind. Does the 18 hour course give the participant a recognised qualification?, and if there were a "problem" and the observation was a factor how would the observer stand if they had not done a full Met Observers course.

21st Nov 2004, 11:45

At the end of the 'course' our ATSAs will be given a 'limited' Met Observer's Certificate, valid only when using SAMOS.

I don't think anybody doubts the abilities of our ATSAs, but the main issue for us, the ATCOs, is that they simply do not have enough time to be able to do both their existing duties in the tower, and provide support for SAMOS. We've all been told that SAMOS should take priority, as it's a CAP168 requirement. That means on those crappy days with bad weather that changes every ten minutes or so, and you call delivery you can bet I won't have your flight plan!

Evil J
21st Nov 2004, 15:42
Having done the "full" Met observers course I would like to concur at the difficulty of the job as a "secondary duty". It is made even harder when in a tower like ours, you can't get outside to view the cloud, or even to tell if its raining...that sounds silly but it IS really difficult to tell if it is raining or not when you are 50m in the air with no way of getting outside, we quite often resort to asking a vehicle or looking to see if cars on the roads have got wipers on!!


Non NATS airports may have their own Met observing staff, but I think they have all done the "full" course; which really only scratches the surfaces; how NATS' ATCAs are going to manage on an 18 hour CBT I don't know...that is meant with no disrespect to the ATCA's-I know from experience how busy they are particularly at LHR- not mention what would happen a FLOP occurs!!!!

21st Nov 2004, 19:40
I have completed my SAMOS course at Manchester. I was assesed in a 11/2 hour "Practical and Theory" session, and was told that I had passed. I now have a "Limited [SAMOS] Met Observers Cerificate. Perhaps of my interest in all aspects of Aviation, I found the prospect of a new disciplne quite stimulating.
I know that I am not as competent as a Met Office observer, but in my 40+ years in aviation, I have found that people who "pass the same exam" pass with different degrees of "Competency" . Observer 1 will give xxx wx, Observer 2 may have his/her own ideas on the interpretation of the same wx.
At the end of the day, we have a reasonable piece of kit to help us, and I [at least] consider myself no less proffesional than an ATCO or a Line Captain.
If you want to see the kit in action, ask the Tower Sup for a visit, you [just] may be pleasantly surpised.

Evil J
21st Nov 2004, 22:24
Sorry if I wasn't clear first time. I wasn't trying to say that people who have done the full course are any better than those doing the "abridged" course. I was merely trying to highlight the fact that even after the full course I still found it an extremely difficult task to undertake. And whilst I, working at a regional airport accept that we cannot really justify having our own met office- I think Heathrow as the supposed "flagship" airport really ought to...

22nd Nov 2004, 11:34
I know that a fair few current Metmen (I'm not!) read this forum, so I'm sure you'll get some input from them at some point.


From my days as a Met. Office observer on mainly mil airfields, I can safely say that on a good day, I would sit on my bum looking out the window watching the planes go by, and popping out once an hour to carry out an ob, and spending the next 15 mins submitting it. Not exactly rocket science.

However on a cr@ppy day (and being the UK, you have a fair few cr@ppy days!) both shift observers would be busy , keeping a constant watch, doing specials, updating computers, etc etc. Now I would guess that crappy met days also make for busy ATC days?

I'm not trying to claim a fully trained ATC observer is less capable than a Met. Office observer, however the Met. Office observers primary role is to provide Met. observations - the same cannot be said for Met. trained ATC staff. So how does that work on a busy day?

I'm not entirely convinced you can train to be an observer by 18 hour CBT either! Nothing can beat real-life training for a task that relies on physical observation of real world events - not computer generated poor quality images of indesinguishable clouds, visibility, cloud heights, etc etc. I dont want to suggest that there are any safety concerns - I'm sure there are enough safeguards in place anyway - however it really is a poor state of affairs for everyone!

Then there is the meteorological data aspect. A Met. Office observer provides more than just a METAR, they provide a very specific running meteorological record which feeds the Met. Office model. Over the last few years, the number of full time observation sites has reduced quite markedly, being replaced by part-time or automatic observations giving only partial information (when they work). Ask any Met. Office observer or forecaster what they think of this change. How can you expect forecast quality from the model output to get better if the information feeding the model is getting sparser and contains less information?

22nd Nov 2004, 15:39

You raise a very good point. If I'm supervising at Heathrow, I have two choices. I can ring up Exeter to speak to the Aerdrome Forecaster who, through no failing of his or her own, has no local knowledge and usually gives me what's in the TAF, or the Heathrow Met Observer who has access to the same data, weather radars etc, and has the benefit of being a specialist.

22nd Nov 2004, 16:44
Centralisation was taking over when I left the Met. Office - the aim was to have all services provided out of (Bracknell) rather than locally. The worry was that they would end up quoting the model output, with minimal/no manual input or local knowledge, and nothing really value added. FCUK12 has at least indicated that the airfield forecasters still have a wealth of knowledge.

I certainly would not expect the situation to improve, and certainly I would expect to see a reduction in locally available value added information (to both the airfield and back to the Met. Office), and more generic stuff coming out of Exeter. That includes the military boys, if any of them are reading, and still have local forecasters!

I'm hoping that some of the current Met. Office people will correct me and tell me I'm wrong - I want to be wrong! Costcutting tells me I'm probably not wrong though.

22nd Nov 2004, 16:50
Most of those who forecast for Heathrow have many years experience of forecasting for that location and have built up detailed local knowledge of the region. Plus, some were based at Heathrow when forecasts were produced from there.

The TAF, after all, is the forecast written by the Airfield's forecaster, any conversations will reflect this. The forecasters have access to considerably more (forecasting) data compared to that available to the observing staff.

What is of concern, is that additional onsite information that the observer passes to the forecaster verbally, particularly for Trend purposes, will be lost.

Clearly things have changed but the fact is that Heathrow forecasts (and many other airfields) are considerably more accurate than they were say 10 years ago. (Met Office/CAA verification stats).

Furthermore, with increasingly higher resolution models, improved automatic observing systems and more frequent synoptic data (e.g. 10min SYNOPs) the picture isn\'t as bleak as some would paint it.

22nd Nov 2004, 22:01
the new system at manchester i think is having a bit of teething trouble.

we were recently airborne, the atis (or eqivalent) was giving overcast at 6,000 feet.

we were struggling to see the ground at 3,000' this was within about 5 dme of egcc.

how does this new squiggly amp system measure the cloudbase? does it throw a load of random numbers into a machine similar to the lottery draw?

im not trying to stir up a hornet's nest and have respect for the chaps in the tower, but is this new thing dependable???


22nd Nov 2004, 22:21
The SAMOS at Manch has a "fixed" Cloud Base Recirder rather than a "scanning" CBR that Met had. therefore, we now have a rather more "objecive",[machine] rather than "subjective" [human] reading..
We [the observers] say 9999 -RA FEW025 BKN045.
Fault with the "equipment", or fault with the "observer"
At 5DME, on 24R you are over Stockport. We ain't got a CBR in Stockport. To be fair, Met have asked us about wx in the past, :ok: None of us are perfect, at the end of the day we report what we see or at least, what we "interpret".
If you want a look, call the Tower Sup for a visit

22nd Nov 2004, 22:21
On occasions where you feel something is seriously awry I'd suggest you report your concerns to the UK Met. Authority (the CAA).

22nd Nov 2004, 22:48
As I've said before, NATS have been using SAMOS at LGW now for several years and as far as I'm concerned, this service is entirely adequate for our needs. Furthermore, I would say that Heathrow's needs aren't any more stringent than ours, merely a slightly different emphasis in one or two particulars. For instance, we are more interested in accurate cloud ceiling around the 700'-800' mark for Northern Runway ops; LHR have a greater interest in crosswinds for choice of runways. As far as LVPs are concerned at both airports; IRVR is derived from an entirely different system; cloud ceiling from the ceiliometer, not just human observation.

I think it needs emphasising that it isn't the job of the Assistant to compile the forecast from observations that they make; rather to verify that the automatic observations made are reasonable.

I would say that at our larger airports, where the vast majority of traffic is CAT II-capable and mostly CAT III-capable and where CAT I or 'visual' traffic simply can't get the slots, accurate reporting of weather parameters is less important than at airfields where a/c and pilots with less capable qualifications operate.

I've always had an excellent service from the Aerodrome Forecaster at Bracknell, now Exeter. Personally I always call already armed with the TAF, asking for perhaps some more detail as to timings or whether we're going to get snow or sleet etc. This is usually forthcoming and has been useful in decision-making. I certainly haven't heard anyone say that our TAF is any the less accurate than it used to be because the METAR data that forms a part of the information used to compile it is produced automatically rather than by human observation. There's more to a TAF than 3 METAR in a row, look at the TAFs for 3 airfields within reasonable distance of each other; notice the subtle differences coloured by the overall met. picture.

I'm quite surprised that LHR hadn't changed to SAMOS years ago; what was the reason for that?

The Odd One

23rd Nov 2004, 02:23
thanks for the explanation. like i say i wasnt having a go at you guys.

i just prefer someone looking old, look out the window, feel the wind on your face, brollies or shades approach

with the best will in the world, the machine is never gonna tell me that.

thanks for the offer of a visit, i may just take u up on that,



23rd Nov 2004, 17:56
Hi everybody,

1st post, so bear with me!

I am a serving EGLL ATSA2. The issue of SAMOS is only one of many concerns we have at EGLL at present concerning the ATSA2 function. The problems with SAMOS introduction at EGLL are twofold:

1) EGLL Ops and Management have already committed to this project without recourse to those who will be expected to do it - par for the course, I'm afraid. They want it introduced at minimum cost - hence the 8 hour CBT package, plus a practical assessment, followed by an exam with an Instructor from either EGKK or EGCC. For a number of reasons, we all think that this is insufficient, and a more thorough Met course should be provided.

2) They have a big problem which they have failed to identify - they haven't got enough flexibility within ATSA manpower to allow training to take place within working shifts, and are currently working to a deadline of 31.05.05. Fine if you have the resources available to release staff for training - but they haven't. The newly introduced Working Practice has seen a reduction of 5 posts, leaving the absolute minimum of ATSAs left to provide a service. Believe me, there is no flexibility available here!

The only option is for the 25 ATSAs to attend training on their rostered days' off. Problem here is that anything conducted on rest days is purely voluntary. It was suggested that the Management offer overtime payments for attendance on rest days - they have not responded as yet. I can foresee troubles ahead if they don't follow this suggestion, purely because nobody will turn up - and they're not obliged to! No attendance equals no training equals no SAMOS equals no Met at EGLL because the Met Office boys will be gone.

Unfortunately, the EGLL pontiffs are singing from the usual hymnsheet - don't tell or involve the ATSAs at all - just announce to them that they WILL be doing it. They consider PCS to be weak, and the ATSA workforce too small and vulnerable to make much impression on their master plan. This time, though, they may have to reconsider - and quickly, if they want to provide SAMOS to the masses at EGLL on June1st.

You may just have to put up with me and my friends broadcasting it out to you for a little while longer yet:ok:

24th Nov 2004, 23:21
Typical of the management that we have at Heathrow...too many managers trying to justify their jobs and not talking to anyone, taking things for granted whilst trying to destroy the ATSA jobs which has been the culture for years rather than use them, train them properly and get full benefit from them. Still what do you expect from managers that couldnt manage their way out of a paper bag?

25th Nov 2004, 20:48
I was led to believe that although the management knew about the ATSAs concerns about workload it was ignored until the ATCOs raised concerns as well and only then was a meeting held to discuss it. Is this true?

25th Nov 2004, 20:51
God preserve us......

26th Nov 2004, 00:34

Almost correct. The ATSAs here have been discussing the consequences of SAMOS installation with the ATCOs, and the issue of workload priority was raised. It was identified that SAMOS would prevail over ATCO support, and therefore this was to the detriment of the VCR ATCOs, who were not happy with this arrangement. I understand that certain ATCOs have raised the issue at local Union/Tech Com level, but no ATCO (Prospect) reps were present at the SAMOS meeting held last week. The meeting was actually called in response to a strongly worded letter to the Project Manager from the PCS Branch Secretary. We are now waiting for Management to come back to us over the issues and possible solutions which were discussed.

Also - check your PMs

28th Nov 2004, 20:30
If you want prospect reps to come next time have a quick word with the chair or secretary and we will be happy to send someone.

1st Dec 2004, 20:39
I have been an ATCA/ATSA for 14 years and a met observer for 11 years. I have both a full met ticket and SAMOS trained. In my opinion the SAMOS training falls short of what is required of a Met observer. When using SAMOS all of the visual elements have to be verified by the ATSA, Vis, cloud and Wx. The cloudbase recorder is at best poor. As it only looks straight up it doesn't give the full picture and cannot be taken as gospel. I am sure that any ATSA worth his salt would take on board any help or constructive criticism from pilots. It is very helpfull to have a cloudbase report from time to time. Please be gentle with us though, met observing is a steep learning curve and we are sensitive creatures.