FAA Weather Consolidation Plan Draws Opposition

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The FAA's plan to take forecasters out of the 21 Air Route Traffic Control Centers around the country and consolidate weather services at two sites, in Maryland and Kansas, is drawing opposition from the GA alphabet groups. The FAA has set a deadline of Feb. 23 to come up with a plan for the change, which also could eliminate up to 39 forecaster positions. "If these employees are removed from the centers, we will lose a valuable asset," Ron Carpenter, NATCA rep at the Memphis Center, said on Wednesday. "We currently receive instant updates on the ever-changing weather. We don't believe any technology that exists now will give us the speed or effectiveness with which we must have our weather reports delivered." Forecasters in the centers provide "a vital means of communicating late-breaking weather warnings and advisories to pilots," AOPA said this week. "Meteorologists with local weather expertise, who are co-located in each ARTCC, are able to quickly relay information about adverse weather to controllers, who in turn advise pilots whose routes may take them near danger." FAA spokesman Paul Takemoto told the Memphis Commercial Appeal, "We're simply looking for ways to reduce costs. The main thing to keep in mind is this would not compromise safety at all." The FAA hopes to launch the consolidation plan later this year, and complete the project by 2011, AOPA said.

"These [Center forecasters] have weather information not only for the continental United States, but also have more specific information for the facility to which they are assigned," said Kevin Bianchi, NATCA rep at the Boston Center. "It is this detailed and specific information that is invaluable to controllers." The current system has been in place since 1978, after the NTSB determined that a major contributing factor to the 1977 Southern Airways DC-9 crash in Georgia, in which 62 people died, was ATC's inability to quickly send hazardous weather information to flight crews. The consolidation plan would save the FAA an estimated $4 million per year.