Weather Service Proposes Closing Forecasting Units At Air Traffic Control Centers
In what its employees’ union calls a “Katrina in the making,” the National Weather Service yesterday submitted plans to the FAA to close the Center Weather Service Units located at each of the twenty Air Route Traffic Control Centers in the continental United States.
These forecast units provide real time, face-to-face, weather guidance to the air traffic controllers and air traffic management supervisors at each ARTCC.
The NWS has offered to send the FAA forecasts from two central units located in Maryland and Kansas City instead.
The proposal was developed by the NWS in response to an FAA request to cut the cost of the CWSU program, which is funded from the FAA budget. The CWSUs were established in 1978 as a result of a recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The NTSB determined one of the major contributing factors in the Southern Airways DC-9 crash in New Hope, Ga., April 4, 1977, was the FAA’s air traffic control system’s inability to disseminate hazardous weather information to flight crews on a real time basis.
In a January 20, 2004 letter, the NTSB’s Director of Office of Aviation Safety withheld support for any plan to consolidate the CWSUs, writing that “the loss of CWSU staffing at a majority of ARTCCs, the lack of face-to-face interaction between meteorologists and controllers, and the potential for deficiencies in the timeliness of information dissemination during critical events could negatively impact safety.”
If the NWS’ plan is implemented, air traffic controllers at the ARTCCs will no longer have the immediate expertise of an on-site meteorologist to advise them where to route aircraft experiencing difficulty when weather conditions play a critical role in that decision, the National Weather Service Employees Organization said in a statement. NWS forecasters at the ARTCCs routinely provide emergency assistance to aircraft that have lost instrumentation during bad weather.
“The NWS’s consolidation plans ignore the findings of a January 27, 2006 study of the CWSUs conducted for the FAA by Booz-Allen,” the NWSEO statement said. “The report concluded that all seven ARTCCs that participated in the study desired to retain an on-site CWSU and face-to-face interaction with meteorologists rather than rely on remote briefings. Most insisted on the availability of an on-site meteorologist for on-demand consultations and verbal updates, especially during periods of convective activity.”
The survey team “found that the majority of the customers considered the services of the CWSU meteorologists highly valuable and expressed sensitivity to any actions that might terminate or severely alter the delivery methods of these services.”
The report also concluded that “due to the unique weather conditions, the CWSU’s local knowledge of the environment is important to their customers to maintain the quality of service.”
On April 18, 2007 Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye wrote the FAA Administrator a letter opposing consolidation plans because the committee “has grave concerns over the safety and wisdom of removing meteorologists from the ARTCCs.”
Inouye wrote that “the Committee believes that the FAA should focus its efforts on working with the NWS to enhance the services provided by its meteorologists in situ, rather than considering proposals to obtain meteorological support for the ARTCCS from off-site.”