The Met Office has connected servers from its Exeter headquarters to Heathrow so that meteorologists can help the airport make decisions based on the most up-to-date weather data.

The five-year contract will see six meteorologists working day and night in Heathrow using data channelled from an IBM supercomputer in Exeter to make detailed forecasts that will affect flight scheduling and improve passenger experience.

"By having the Met office team located with the airport's operational teams we are able to understand the airports operations much better. It's more a continual flow of information between air traffic, ourselves and the airport," Jonathan Dutton, operation centre lead at the Met Office said.

"Heathrow is a high capacity airport and there is such little slack in the schedule. A small piece of advice can help make a real difference to the organisation."

A dedicated BT network was installed at Heathrow in April to ensure 100% availability for the Met Office staff.

"It requires fairly robust IT to get all that data around the world from Exeter to Heathrow and back again. We have a robust network for doing that which is effectively a fibre optic copper cable link to ensure we can securely and reliably transfer all that information," Dutton added.

The information fed to the meteorologists is visualised on dashboards created by software company IBL.  

All of the Met Office's weather predictions run on a Unified Model (UM) system which is supported by the IBM supercomputer, which runs more than a thousand trillion calculations a second, allowing users to see a computer model output for a forecast for a certain time. For Heathrow, the Met Office needs to produce forecasting from the next six hours to 15 days.

Despite the complexity and innovative technology used to run the UM in Exeter, the Met Office use a traditional method to get the data down the pipes to Heathrow.

"The UM produces output that is very, very large so rather than distribute that to a client, or service end point, we make use of traditional client server technology." Charles Ewen, Met Office IT director said.

The Met Office uses Swift overlayed with Citrix to virtualise at the user end.

But the project is just "one, small part of what we do in aviation," Ewen said.

"We have a big organisation that is dedicated to forecasting the weather over the next five to 10 days and we are distributing that to many, many market sectors - aviation being a very important one of them. Heathrow is just part of the huge amount of information dissemination that we are doing on a minute-by-minute basis every single day of the year."