Here’s a list of frequently asked questions and their answers to provide you with a quick and easy way to find the information you need..
1. Why not just get a traditional AWOS?
Regular AWOS have a 30 ft (10m) mast that is a hazard near any runway. Regular AWOS must therefore be installed 750 feet from the nearest runway centerline. At many smaller airports, this would be off-airport property.
In addition to runway setbacks, regular AWOS are required to have 500 feet clear around, and height restriction out to 1,000 feet.
Regular AWOS siting requirements require an airport to have and set aside 20 acres (8 hectares) of empty real estate for the exclusive use of the AWOS.
At very large airports complying with regular AWOS siting requirements is easy. At smaller airports, regular AWOS requirements are often physically impossible.
SOLUTION – Everything about MicroTower is designed to be quick, simple, easy and affordable. It can be installed as simply as any windsock, having no requirements and imposing no restrictions on airport property.
|Traditional AWOS Cost too much – Regular AWOS cost from around $300,000 to $600,000, to $1m USD or …more. The high cost of regular AWOS is often beyond the budget of most smaller airports and heliports.
Even national air traffic and weather services with large budgets can only afford a few regular AWOS at a few critical locations.
|Everything about MicroTower is designed to be quick, simple, easy and affordable. Being 100% off-grid, solar powered and satellite-linked, MicroTower eliminates need for any on site infrastructure or civil works.|
|Traditional AWOS projects take years – Regular AWOS projects typically take 3,5,7 or more years to get through all the multiple pre-approvals required. AWOS require multiple preliminary airspace and engineering feasibility studies, followed by multiple technical submissions to be prepared and submitted to multiple government for pre-approval. Once all the technical documents have been submitted, inter-agency reviewed, coordinated, and modified, final pre-approval often takes years.||Everything about MicroTower is designed to be quick, simple, easy and affordable. It can be installed anywhere in one day, as simply as any windsock. MicroTower has no additional requirements and imposes no restrictions on airport property. By intelligently sharing any airport’s air traffic frequency, MicroTower eliminates years of delay otherwise required to obtain a regular AWOS discrete VHF frequency.|
|Traditional AWOS require continuous AC power at the site – Unless replacing an existing regular AWOS, AC power is never available at the installation site. Bringing AC power from the nearest building out to the center of an airport is typically costly. In many parts of the world, and at most smaller or remote airports, AC power may not be available under any conditions.||MicroTower is 100% off-grid, entirely solar-powered, linked to the internet by satellite (or local LAN where available).|
|Traditional AWOS typically require indoor equipment as part of their installation. At many small or remote airports and heliports there are no structures to house the indoor portion of a regular AWOS.||MicroTower is 100% self-contained, with no additional or external components. It can be installed anywhere, without need for anything else at the site.|
|Traditional AWOS are too costly to inspect. Once a regular AWOS has been installed their intrinsically high operating costs are often overlooked and underestimated. Traditional AWOS require periodic on-site physical inspections be performed by manufacturer and government approved technicians. Getting technicians to the site of a regular AWOS is often prohibitively costly.||MicroTower has embedded diagnostics that perform the functions otherwise performed by field technicians. Redundant sensors continually crosscheck. The radio has a built in radio test laboratory. Remote telemetry, diagnostics, control and calibration eliminate the need for on-site physical inspections.|
|Traditional AWOS are too expensive to maintain. When a sensor or component on a regular AWOS needs repair or replacement, this often requires multiple trips by the factory authorized technican to the site. Parts are prohibitively expensive and often beyond the budget of smaller airports or heliports to sustain.||All of MicroTower’s components are heavily-protected, modular, and easy for non-technical field support, if required. Anyone who is convenient to the site can easily perform any sup[port required, without any special training or technical knowledge or skills.|
|Traditional AWOS provide limited services. AWOS only transmit basic weather information and no….more Tower-controlled airports get many services from their control tower, and only need the basic weather information provided by AWOS. At non-towered airports flight operations still have other needs beyond what AWOS provide, including best runway for wind and traffic, crosswind, windshear, radio check, emergency detection and reporting, and more.||MicroTower was designed from the perspective of what all pilots, flight operations, and airports need, not just weather service requirements.|
2. Where did AWOS standards come from?
To improve forecasting the NWS built a nationwide network of 900 Automated Surface Observation Systems (ASOS) across the USA.
NWS standards for ASOS were for a scientific platform for atmospheric models, with nothing to do with aviation. Installation at airports was convenient but incidental.
While any basic windsock is perfectly acceptable for aviation, AWOS requires a 30-foot mast, clear areas, and slow-moving algorithms that provide trend information.
At that time the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was also seeking to reduce the high labor costs of maintaining human weather observers at commercial airports, by replacing them with automation. To minimize foreseeable controversy over technical merits, FAA simply adopted NWS’ already-accepted standard for the NWS ASOS Government procurement.
For scientific measurement, ASOS and AWOS are ideal, but only practical where sufficient funds, open space, and infrastructure are available.
Unfortunately, traditional ASOS AWOS are only affordable at a small number of locations where paid for out of national authority budgets, and remain too costly and impractical for most of the world’s smaller airports and heliports.
SOLUTION – MicroTower was designed with simplicity, affordability, and ease of support in mind. Using sophisticated automation and AI, MicroTower makes it possible for smaller communities to have a level of air traffic services similar to larger airports, but without the initial or ongoing costs of control tower or regular AWOS.
3. How does MicroTower avoid interfering with busy airport VHF unicom?
Every airport’s busy VHF air traffic frequency is like being in a room full of people, where everything they have to say is critical to safety, but must share a single radio channel over which only one person can talk at a time.
SOLUTION – To avoid interfering with many critical conversations taking place on the VHF channel, the first requirement is to hear everyone else, so you don’t talk (transmit) over them. To ‘hear’ all the conversations at altitude, from the ground, requires an extraordinarily high sensitivity radio technology.
Once able to ‘hear a pin drop’ on the VHF frequency, the next requirement is for the system to be smart enough to know what to say, when. This is where AI emulates the expertise of a human pilot, that understands flight operations, the airport’s local procedures, and even how to communicate over busy radio frequencies.
4. Does AWOS require a 30ft (10M) mast?
Yet, windsocks are perfectly acceptable for aviation use.
MicroTower provides the best of both worlds:
A) Traditional two-minute averaging like any AWOS, best for forecasting and trend purposes, plus
B) Real-time wind like a talking windsock, ideal for the rapidly changing conditions common at smaller and encroached landing sites
The over-riding inter-agency policy document the Federal Meteorological Handbook ( FMH-1), while encouraging the ‘standard, allows for many other ways to determine ‘wind.’
Regular AWOS all have a rigid 30 foot (10m) metal mast so that their wind sensor can be optimally positioned for consistent scientific forecast models. However, the tall metal mast introduces a significant safety obstruction hazard if placed near any runway. This is why regular AWOS must be installed so far away from any runway, and which also condemns 20 acres (8 hectares) of airport real estate for forecast models.
The only limitation of any windsock is that they are only visible at a short distance. Windsocks are indistinguishable from altitude or on a low-weather approach to landing
SOLUTION – MicroTower’s mast has been designed similar to any windsock, so that it can be installed as simply and with common-sense as any windsock. MicroTower’s structure and mast are also ‘frangible’ (breakable), and lighted for night operations, just like any windsock.
5. Does MicroTower use AWOS wind algorithms?
Regular AWOS wind algorithms were designed for general trends and forecast models with aviation use only secondary.
Large heavy aircraft operate differently than smaller aircraft. They approach at high speed and so must make their initial runway decision early, typically from the trend information coming from an AWOS or ATIS.
All aircraft are expected to then switch to approach control, tower, or Unicom, for the most up to date information about winds and runway selection.
Smaller lighter aircraft are more affected by rapidly changing conditions. At small confined airports the slow-moving two-minute average wind from regular AWOS can actually be misleading or dangerous.
SOLUTION – MicroTower provides two types of wind information, more ideal for small aircraft operations at smaller airports and heliports. Wind information sent remotely to flight planning and weather services follows the appropriate, traditional, slow-moving, general-trending algorithms of regular AWOS. Wind information given to pilots over the VHF frequency is much more real-time, like a ‘talking windsock.’
MicroTower’s rapid-algorithms are also essential for determining windshear and crosswind, and runway selection, which regular AWOS cannot do.
6. What about human weather observers?
For example, regular AWOS lasers take thousands of measurements of cloud cover, but at only one tiny spot directly overhead the airport. Aircraft descending to land do not land overhead. At 500 foot cloud deck an aircraft will actually be descending from the clouds about 2 miles away.
Human weather observers use lasers when available, but also look around the horizon and along the airport’s approach courses to make their more interpretive report.
Similarly, AWOS only measure a tiny 2 cu ft sample of air directly at the sensor, interpreted as ‘area visibility.’ A human observer looks at pre-measured distance markers. For example, when a building at a known 3 miles is visible, the visibility is 3 miles. The human is looking through 3 miles of air, while the automation looking only at 2 cu ft directly at the sensor.
It is not unusual for visibility to vary significantly from any one sensor. This is what at very large airports multiple visibility sensor are placed along runways, providing ‘runway visual range’ for each specific location.
Automated systems are not ‘as good’ as human observers, but are generally accepted as ‘good enough’ to provide an acceptable level of service at locations where human observers are not practical or available.
7. Why so few AWOS worldwide?
Billions have been spent, but mostly upgrading just 5% of the world’s largest airports.
Traditional government-program solutions for large airports, staffed Control Towers and regular AWOS, are generally not practical for the ‘other’ 95% of the world’s smaller airports, and mostly impractical for any heliport.
As an example, the USA has more than 5,000 public-use airports, 14,000 private-use airports, and many heliports. Yet, in 2012, FAA reported only 1,600 total automated weather stations nationwide, a small fraction of the available airports.
Even with FAA willing to fund AWOS at many public airports, 70% of the PUBLIC airports remain un-served, even in the USA.
Of the 1,600 automated systems, 874 were the original NWS ASOS from the 1980’s, 198 regular AWOS serving human observers at major commercial airports, and 537 regular AWOS only serving about 10% of the remaining public airports.
The reasons regular AWOS are not cost-effective or practical for most smaller airports or heliports are self-evident.
a) Initial costs can approach $500,000 USD or more,
b) Inability for smaller airports to meet NWS sensor clear area siting requirements,
c) Extraordinarily long project implementation schedules,
d) Prohibitively high ongoing inspection, maintenance, repair costs.
SOLUTION – MicroTower is simple and affordable, a practical solution for the unaddressed 95% of the worlds smaller airports, where regular AWOS and Control Towers will never be practical or affordable.
8. Does FAA still use AWOS?
Human weather observers still rely on regular AWOS to make routine reports, but human observers amend AWOS reports when necessary.
Human observers also provide backup at all large commercial airports, to assure commercial airlines can continue to operate if/when AWOS information is not available.
AWOS are still commonly used at towered airports for weather as well.
9. What is the footprint of a MicroTower?
MicroTower’s mast is similar to any windsock, and its solar panels extend only a few feet to either side.
10. Do you have a technical briefing available?
11. Has MicroTower been certified or approved?
The newer SA 3000 model is advisory and provides many services for which no published standards exist.
12. How does MicroTower compare to AWOS?
Wind – The wind senor is NIST certified, the highest scientific standard available. For very good reasons discussed earlier, MicroTower measures wind at ‘windsock height,’ not from the top of regular AWOS standard 30 foot mast. This enables easy equipment siting more proximate to the actual runway, without condemning airport property, a very practical and good compromise for very good reasons.
In theory, wind measured below 30 feet could be fractionally less, affected by ‘surface friction’ and fluid dynamics. However, MicroTower has been co-located with National Weather Service ASOS, (KMGJ and other sites), and no significant difference ever observed.
As a practical matter, even if there were some small difference, to a pilot choosing a runway, there is no real difference between 7 and 9 knots, or 20 and 22 knots, the operational decisions remain the same.
Wind data sent remotely for flight planning and forecasting follows traditional AWOS algorithms for consistency.
Beyond regular AWOS, MicroTower uses real-time wind and other factors to pro-actively call runways, crosswinds, windshear, and even rapidly changing winds.
Temperature and Dewpoint – MicroTower uses sensors that are NIST traceable, easily maintained or replaced if need arises.
Visibility – MicroTower uses a state of the art visibility sensor, well recognized as a gold standard for any application.
Precipitation – MicroTower does not use a traditional AWOS/ASOS precipitation sensor. To aviation, the significant distinctions are between rain, freezing rain, or snow. MicroTower combines sensor data from multiple sensors to detect moisture then categorize, rain, mist, potential freezing, or snow.
Sky / Cloud cover – Regular AWOS use standard laser ceilingometers to measure cloud cover. Unfortunately, these high-power high maintenance sensors are incompatible with MicroTower’s low-power, low-maintenance requirements.
To provide some cloud information, MicroTower uses its proprietary sensor and algorithms to measure the base of clouds overhead, if any.
Although not as precise as a laser ceilingometer, MicroTower can provide a general estimate of cloud cover and height above ground.
Is precise cloud cover a requirement?
Remember, even a laser ceilingometer is only measuring a tiny spot directly over the airport, through which no aircraft over actually descends.
Visibility and knowing height above ground, either electronic or barometric, are the only requirements for low-weather operations. Cloud information neither enables or prevents flight, except in very rare circumstances: During low-weather operations pilots are required to use a forecast of visibility and clouds to pre-identify an alternate airport for emergency landing, should they be unable to get into their primary destination. In certain situations there may be a set ceiling minimum for emergency divert or return, but these are rare.
If a pilot is in visual conditions, they can see it. Aircraft descending through clouds follow an electronic 3D ‘IFR approach course’ which brings them safely to just above the end of the runway. if the pilot can see the runway, it is safe to land. If not, the pilot may either try again or go elsewhere. Cloud base information provides pilots a general sense of what to expect on descent.
Remember, even a laser ceilingometer is only measuring a tiny spot directly over the airport, through which no aircraft over actually descends.
Actual Low Weather (IFR) Requirements – If a pilot is in visual conditions they can see where they are going. Aircraft descending through clouds follow an electronic 3D ‘IFR approach course’ which brings them safely to just above the end of the runway. if at the minimum descent altitude (MDA) or Decision Height (DH) the pilot can see the runway, it is safe to land. If not, the pilot may either try again or go elsewhere. Cloud base information only provides pilots a general sense of what to expect during a low-weather descent.
Cloud information neither enables or prevents flight, except in very rare circumstances: During low-weather operations pilots are required to use a forecast of visibility and clouds to pre-identify an alternate airport for emergency landing, should they be unable to get into their primary destination. In certain situations there may be a set ceiling minimum for emergency divert or return, but these are rare.
The only requirements for low-weather operations are that reported visibility, or through the aircraft windshield, must be above published minimums, and the pilot knows their height above ground, either by pressure (BAROM), GPS (LPV) or onboard radio altimeter.
Advanced built in diagnostics, verification, remote calibration and adjustment – Regular AWOS continue to follow the inspection and verification practices from the original 1980’s Weather Services ASOS program. They require constant, periodic physical human inspection and adjustment.
Globally Networked – MicroTower takes advantage of modern technology and networking. It incorporates advanced diagnostics, remote control that provide remote verification, calibration and even adjustment. The proprietary radio transceiver has its own built-in radio laboratory that allows for continuous monitoring and adjustment, remotely. These unique features combine to essentially eliminate any need to train or send a technician physically to the site.
13. What is MicroTower’s automated traffic advisory service (ATAS)?
Beyond any regular AWOS, MicroTower also listens for and greets inbound pilots, and responds to standard radio calls to inform the inbound pilot MicroTower is present and how to activate. Provides the best runway for wind and current traffic, a heads up of other aircraft in the area, based on radio communications, various alerts of crosswind, windshear, suddenly changing conditions, recommended traffic patterns, a pre-takeoff two-way radio check, and even monitors and remotely reports potential aircraft accidents.
With built-in sensors similar to AWOS3, it provides essential weather. With knowledge of its airport, traffic pattern, and operations, allows its AI to provide smart, brief responses, dynamically adapting to frequency congestion in real-time.
14. What are MicroTower’s dimensions and specifications?
MicroTower Technical Sensors Description
15. What makes MicroTower an Artificial Intelligence?
While certain aspects are pre-programmed, interpretation of what is being said, what information is needed, how and with what to respond, are dynamic, adapting in real-time to many factors.
16. How does MicroTower compare to a control tower?
The graphic also shows how MicroTower provides some basic comparable services for non-towered airports.
17. What is unique about MicroTower?
18. How much does it cost?
But even that is too expensive for most smaller airports and heliports.
MicroTower is priced to be affordable.
MicroTower is manufactured in the USA and exported worldwide. Pricing varies by region and complexity of getting to the installation site.
For example, shipping and installing a MicroTower in the lower 48 states of the USA is generally very simple.
In contrast, exporting, shipping, and installing MicroTower to a remote foreign location is more costly and often far more complex and costly.
Even then, MicroTower still costs a small fraction the cost of even a basic AWOS.
Please contact us to get a quote for your situation at 202-575-5700
19. Is it available for export?
As of today, export is restricted to Iran, Sudan, Cuba, and North Korea.
20. How long does it take to get one?
Like most capital equipment manufacturing, MicroTower is manufactured in production runs of multiple systems.
Sometimes production positions get taken before a run is complete, which can delay additional equipment by 12-14 weeks or more.
Sometimes delays in projects make equipment available immediately.
We try to accommodate all clients in as timely a manner as possible.
If your timing is critical, please contact us for current status 202-575-5700.
21. Where is MicroTower in operation currently?
22. Does MicroTower work in extreme climates?
MicroTowers have proven decades of service across the most extreme conditions around the world, from the driest deserts of the middle east, to rain-soaked forests in Indonesia, highly-corrosive ocean fronts in Asia and the USA, to the icy cold of Alaska and the Dakotas.
23. How reliable is MicroTower?
24. How accurate is MicroTower?
For wind, MicroTower uses different siting criteria than traditional AWOS to greatly reduce land requirements, give better real-time readings at the runway, and more practical at smaller airports that are unable to meet traditional AWOS open space requirements.
For pressure we use multiple cross-correlating pressure sensors, the extreme temperature range type commonly used on the highest=end NWS scientific weather equipment.
For visibility we use the BIRAL series, world-renowned for accuracy and reliability.
MicroTower is all super-low power and super- low maintenance, which renders traditional high-power laser ceilingometers not possible.
For Sky condition, MicroTower uses a proprietary technology that looks up at the base of clouds from below, to estimate conditions overhead.
25. Can MicroTower be used in an emergency?
Because MicroTower is 100% self-contained and 100% off grid, linked by global satellite, it continues to function regardless of local conditions, even during total power loss and other emergencies. It is perfect for emergency preparedness.
26. Where can MicroTower be installed? Like any windsock?
As per FAA guidance, the system should be installed “In a location that best reflects the runway environment.”
Like a windsock, the mast is frangible (breakable), marked and even lighted when activated.
There is no need to bring power or communications to the site, merely install the base and assemble it on site.
Setback requirements consider the wingspan of the largest aircraft likely to use the facility and the lowest visibility minimums that may apply: Large aircraft or very low visibility minimums require the larger setback from the runway, for obvious reasons).
27. What does 100% off-grid really mean?
This means there is no need to bring AC power or communications to the site, and no need to do any civil works engineering or obtain any permits. MicroTower can simply be installed in the ground, anywhere, fully installed and functional in just a few hours.
28. How easy is MicroTower to install?
29. How easy is MicroTower to maintain?
MicroTowers are physical devices, often in harsh environmental conditions. Equipment can be damaged by external events, vandalism, and induced failures.
With over 20 years of proven design refinement, the only maintenance left is minor and easily performed by whoever may be convenient to the site.
Every component has been designed to be modular, heavily protected, and easy to swap or replace. In one isolated case the electronics cabinet door was left wide open, and the equipment flooded y heavy rains. Modular design made MicroTower easy to disassemble and ship the entire unit to manufacturing to be refurbished and re-installed.
30. What is the expected operational lifespan?
Many of the original equipment from the late 1990’s continues to be in service.
By conservative design we have only seen very isolated component failures over many years, quickly and easily fixed or replaced. Our very earliest equipment originally used 1.44 floppy drives for software updates, which were easily upgraded to modern memory.
Other than replacing batteries, current MicroTower systems have no practical life limit.
31. What are the negatives?
But then again, a human making the same radio calls would be just as repetitive…
MicroTower also does not use a laser ceilingometer. Our low-power maintenance free sky sensor, which we must use for our off-grid system, is only able to estimate sky coverage and altitude.
32. What about heliports?
MicroTower’s real-time winds are especially appreciated by helicopter operations that are often going into challenging locations.
Designed by an experienced fixed-wing and helicopter pilot, MicroTower is smart enough to change its behavior for heliports.
Helicopter operations have different priorities than fixed wing, and usually do not have any specified runway, of a heliport. MicroTower changes its behavior more appropriate to heliports when selected.
33. Can it handle multiple runways?
34. How does it determine the best runaway for wind and traffic?
MicroTower does not understand words or record communications (although that may be an option in the future).
From a combination of weather, knowledge of the runways, airspace, and real-time communications, MicroTower can consistently provide the best runway incorporating wind and traffic currently in the area.
TRY MICROTOWER NOW
"The State of South Dakota does not participate in routine maintenance costs for AWOS systems - putting traditional AWOS systems out of the reach of small airports from a cost standpoint- so we were looking for a lower cost solution for weather reporting at small rural GA airports. The respose of pilots and operators has been overwhelmingly positive. If we didn't have MicroTower systems, we would likely not have anything."
Manager Air Rail and Transit, State of South Dakota
"The MicroTower is a 'must have' if operating a flight school or an active, uncontrolled field. I only WISH I'd had these at the many remote strips I have operated out of in third world countries."
SEL, SES, MEL, Comm/Inst, A&P, CFIA, 2000+ Hours MAF pilot, LATAM
These systems have performed very well over the years, and Potomac Aviation has been responsive to the Department's needs. South Dakota DOT purchased 29 SuperAwos units from 2006 to 2012. These unites have been very useful to the aiport communities the serve. The most appealing reasons for purchasing them was their ease of installation and maintenance. The systems performs self-diagnostics, reporting, and component status each day. This is useful to airport management for replacing components when necessary."
Aeronautics Planning Engineer, SDDOT Office of Aeronautics
"I wish all non-towered airfields had such a quick and convenient source of current weather conditions. It is a huge help when flying."
Arline Pilot, Former Military
"I love MicroTower! It's real-time information, unlike ATIS that's minutes old. I also especially like the communications check capability that MicroTower offers. I've been using MicroTower for several years and wish other airports had it."
Charlie M., CFII
Air Force pilot and retried Brigadier General (ret)
Potomac Airfield (KVKX)
10300 Glen Way, Fort Washington, Maryland, 20744 USA