Weather balloons, as well as specially prepared aircrafts, are used to retrieve several atmosphere parameters at different altitudes that are latter used to feed mathematical models for weather prediction.

Nowadays airliners are already fitted with multiples sensors (static pressure, temperature, weather radar,..). Those airliners are flying almost all over the world continuously, and are thus able to provide tons of weather data. In many regions (inside TMA and above) data can be retrieve from ground level to 12000m above mean sea level. Those data won't be as complete as data collected by weather balloons, but can be considered as additional data. Yet, airliners are operated by private company and exchanging such data can be subjected to commercial contracts.

Are airliners, whose primary mission is not to collect weather data but to transport cargo or passengers, used to retrieve additional data to feed mathematical weather prediction models on a daily basis?

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    $\begingroup$ Good question. I recently read - albeit on one of the colourful news sites - that weather prediction suffers a bit from missing airliner data, because of the reduced traffic these days. They measure temperature and barometric (static) pressure because they need the data to calibrate their readings, especially for vertical separation and true airspeed calculation, even still in times of gps and the like. I'd check the national weather services for their data, and maybe the aviation board here as well. $\endgroup$
    – user20217
    Commented May 2, 2020 at 12:20
  • $\begingroup$ @a_donda You know, GPS cannot measure aircraft velocity relative to the airmass, which is the parameter useful for pilots $\endgroup$
    – Manu H
    Commented May 2, 2020 at 12:40

2 Answers 2


Indeed, airlines are equipped to measure atmospheric data and then put into weather models. The WorldMeteorological Organization's program is called AMDAR. Several articles highlight the impact that the lack of flights have had on the initialization of weather models.



There are a few papers that explore the impact that aircraft data has on initialization: https://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/full/10.1175/MWR-D-17-0380.1 https://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/pdf/10.1175/BAMS-D-14-00055.1 https://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/pdf/10.1175/2009WAF2222321.1


Besides other data like satellites, radar, radiosondes, etc. data from commercial airliners are collected and included in the assembly as well. As an example, here's the description of the ICON model from the DWD (German met office).

In the chapter "Data Assimilation" they write:

Direct measurements of classical atmospheric variables are also carried out by commercial airplanes. Thus, we obtain a high quantity of measurements in a whole atmospheric column from the ground to about 12km height close to airports, as well as regular measurements along typical flight routes.

I would assume that other national or international services use the same datasets for their models.


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