Lightning at airports: Keeping ramp operations running safely

Lightning at airports
Brooke Pearson
Global Solutions Manager
Published: Sep 28, 2020
Aviation and Road Solutions
Weather & Environment

Ground operations on airport ramps and other facilities are vulnerable to lightning. Workers are not safe from lightning strikes unless they are inside a substantial structure or fully enclosed, metal-topped vehicle. Casualties from lightning at airports are reported every year, even though U.S. lightning occurrence was one-third lower in May and June compared to the past five years, millions of cloud-to-ground lightning flashes still occur annually in the U.S. and elsewhere around the globe. 

Safety is a top priority for airports and can be ensured while also maintaining the highest levels of operational efficiency. There are tried and tested solutions to optimize the balance between ensuring worker safety and keeping operational downtime to an absolute minimum, and these solutions are tied to minimizing uncertainty.

In a recent webinar about lightning strikes near airports (available on demand), we referenced some great research work by Matthias Steiner and others, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who studied the impacts of lightning on activities and behavior at a major airport in 2012. They defined three categories of uncertainties associated with deciding to close ramps: quality lightning information, organizational (safety) procedures, and human factors.

Here is where the high quality of Vaisala’s lightning detection networks comes into play. Vaisala’s advances in lightning detection and warning software have allowed us to develop even more precise solutions for airports and airlines – including accurate classification of in-cloud vs cloud-to-ground lightning events. By implementing Vaisala’s industry-leading lightning detection solutions to support ramp closure decision-making, airports can overcome many of the uncertainties referred to by Steiner, minimizing downtime, safely. 

Aviation customers can choose the most suitable solution for their unique situation; from a standalone, local-area lightning detection sensor to a network-based solution such as Thunderstorm Manager. Both can be integrated with Vaisala AviMet® complete aviation weather management system to deliver high-quality solutions that can be utilized at a single airport, at several airports nationwide, or even across multiple airports around the world to ensure that operational uptime is maximized, safely. 

Lightning and thunderstorms will always be part of our environment, but fortunately airports can be more proactive than ever to maximize safety and efficiency. 

Read more about Vaisala’s lightning detection solutions on our website or contact us for further information.

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