2005 Science, Technology and Environment

Gloria Kulesa

Oversaw development of new tools that have made air travel safer, reduced airport delays and saved tens of millions of dollars.

We’ve all been there: stuck in an airport desperately trying to reach our final destination—for what seems like an eternity—all because of bad weather. But don’t worry. Gloria Kulesa of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Aviation Weather Research Program (AWRP) is on the case. Because of her tireless work, the FAA is constantly developing new tools that are helping to ensure that you will reach your destination as quickly and safely as possible.

Gloria Kulesa doesn’t just work on the Aviation Weather Research Program. She IS the Aviation Weather Research Program. She is the only permanent federal employee of this program, and she oversees the distribution of $20 million in annual funding to a consortium of labs who research weather monitoring devices and aviation safety improvements. And it’s her job to stay on top of the labs to make sure that they are not just “hobbyshopping” but developing practical tools to improve air travel.

There are roughly 50 tools currently in use that were developed by the AWRP, and a recent independent analysis found that three of the initiatives created during Ms. Kulesa’s tenure running AWRP are saving $150 million annually through increased capacity and efficiency.

The Current Icing Potential and Forecast Icing Potential Products enable planes to adjust their altitude to minimize icing. Weather is responsible for approximately 30 percent of air accidents and many officials cite icing as a prime hazard.

The Aviation Digital Data Service provides online information to help predict and subsequently avoid turbulence, high winds, visibility problems and other hazards.

The Terminal Ceiling and Visibility Product aids have been invaluable for coastal airports. This tool, used daily at San Francisco International Airport, helps to determine when thick fog will dissipate. Fog can cut air traffic in half by preventing simultaneous arrivals on parallel runways at airports like San Francisco. Using this technology, air traffic controllers know when the fog will lift and are able to impose fewer delays.

Kulesa’s work is not only improving air travel in the United States but worldwide. Several countries such as China and Taiwan have been in touch with the Aviation Weather Research Program in hopes of incorporating them into their respective aviation programs.

In the end, the Aviation Weather Research Program is taking $20 million in federal funds, translating that investment into at least $150 million in annual savings, all while making it safer for Americans to fly. If you had a private company that offered that kind of return on investment, it would be the toast of Wall Street. And just one person drives all of this activity – Gloria Kulesa. Who says one person can’t make a difference in government? Now if she could only do something about the quality of airline food.