Controllers Get Weather Radios, Air Monitors

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After some embarrassing incidents in air traffic control facilities across the country, the FAA has announced it will supply weather radios and air-quality monitors to select ATC facilities. Last September, as part of the package of work rules imposed by the FAA in its forced settlement of a contract dispute, the agency ordered tower controllers to remove weather radios, which were pretty much a fixture in many facilities. Controllers monitored the radios to keep track of severe weather, but the FAA said they had plenty of regulation gear -- such as radar, Doppler radar and wind shear detectors -- and didn't need to have a radio on. However, after the radios were banned, there were several instances in which aircraft were vectored into severe weather, including one sent toward a tornado that had just gone over an airport unbeknownst to the controllers in the tower. As for the air-quality monitors, they would appear to be the result of carbon monoxide leaks in FAA facilities over the past month, including one at the New York terminal radar approach control (TRACON) facility in which controllers were told to stay at their consoles despite reporting symptoms of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. The FAA says the weather radios it supplies will only activate for severe weather alerts and are designed to supplement all the other gear controllers have at their disposal. As for the air-quality monitors, the agency says they detect four different types of potentially harmful gases and not just the CO that's been making headlines. The National Air Traffic Controllers' Association, which had waged a public-relations war with the agency on both issues, claimed victory, saying both measures are safety enhancements that will help controllers do their jobs properly.