Two federal agencies and North-west Airlines want to know whether information from satellites can help airliners avoid high concentrations of ozone, a gas that has caused shortness of breath and eye, nose and throat irritation for some long-distance passengers and crew members.
The high-altitude ozone layer filters ultraviolet radiation from the sun, thus protecting man from some kinds of skin cancer. However, high contrations of ozone in jetlilner cabins have been found to create great distress. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA has ordered airlines to either avoid ozone or equip their planes with expensive, heavy filters to protect the flying public from it.
The trick to avoiding ozone is that its location in the atmosphere is continually changing and can only be detected with special instruments. Ozone tends to be concentrated more heavily toward the poles and less heavily at the equator. The altitudes at which ozone is found vary seasonally. The two-month effort announced yesterday will involve the FAA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Northwest.
NASA'S Nimbus 7 satellite, launched in October 1978 to study Earth's atmosphere, has been churning out data that give scientists good clues to movement of the ozone layer.
Now the satellite data will be forwarded every six hours to Northwest. Northwest will attempt to plan its flights based on satellite information and will monitor ozone on the flights to see if accurate predictions can be developed.
A bonus from the program, scientists said yesterday, is that atmospheric maps developed from Nimbus 7 data are providing new information on the location of jet streams (high-altitude, high-speed winds) and possibly can be used to predict clear-air turbulence. Clear-air turbulence is something airline passengers recognize as a sudden rough ride in the midst of clear blue sky.
There are several potential payoffs for the airlines. Ozone is concentrated at altitudes above 37,000 feet, and new jet engines are most fuel-efficient at those high altitudes. Thus, potential fuel savings are enormous if the airlines can continue to fly there instead of having to fly lower to keep passengers and crew from suffering the temporary irritations ozone causes.
Also, jet streams can help or hinder airline performance. Flying against a giant headwind and requires more fuel and more time, while an airplane flying with a jet stream picks up speed and fuel efficiency. Finally, plane rides will be smoother and safer if areas of clear-air turbulence can be avoided.