Aviation Organizations Seek Weather Station Access

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Fourteen aviation organizations including AOPA, EAA and GAMA are asking the FAA to reconsider its position on not allowing pilots access to weather data from hundreds of non-federal weather stations. Currently, non-federal weather stations must be equipped with AWOS-III or better to be included in the FAA’s Weather Message Switching Center Replacement (WMSCR), which collects, processes and disseminates aviation weather products to NAS systems, airlines, and international and commercial users.

The organizations sent a joint letter to the FAA last August asking the agency to remove the AWOS-III requirement and to change the VFR weather station standard to require fewer maintenance visits. The letter states that the inclusion of data from lower-level and non-AWOS stations has the potential to increase safety, help prevent unintentional flight into IMC and assist with go/no-go decision making. Reducing required maintenance visits will, the groups believe, save money without impacting safety. The FAA denied the requests, but both AOPA and EAA have said they are continuing to pursue the issue.

The FAA told AVWeb that the AWOS-III requriement is in place in order to meet national and international policy requirements. The agency went on to say that "[it] is reviewing current policies and is investigating refinements to procedures and infrastructure as part of future acquistions under NextGen Weather Systems."

Comments (4)

It's not like me to take a stand agreeing with the FAA but -- in this case -- I mostly do. Especially on the subject of reducing maintenance visits.

I read the EAA statement on the subject and then the FAA statement on WMSCR. Even the FAA says that dissemination of non-Federal weather data is "not required but beneficial." All they're saying is that what is provided must meet a standard which -- in my mind -- is a smart move. What is the point of receiving weather info if it is of questionable accuracy? The FAA says that anyone wishing to connect their non-Federal weather data to the system must agree to an annual FAA visit. What's wrong with that? Without built-in-test and automatic shutdown of erroneous sensors and a periodic visit to ensure everything is good, we're potentially talking about disseminating erroneous data. Errnoeous data could be worse than no data.

Major airfields as well as many minor facilities have FAA approved weather systems. If a specific case pops up where lack of local data is a problem and a sponsor seeks to install and maintain a system which meets the Federal standard ... wonderful. At that point, they're free to connect to the WMSCR through a third party provider ... per the applicable Advisory Circular. If they're unwilling, then they can still find a way to provide that data to users ... maybe via phone or Weather Underground ... it just can't be connected to the Federal system.

In the 'old' days, hundreds of small white FAA Flight Service stations collected data and put it into the system. Certified weather observers manually did this work. As the number of FSS dwindled to nearly nothing, automated systems have come into vogue. Even there, we all know that what is presented isn't always as good as what a human might have provided. So why would we allow automated system of dubious quality to enter the system. Essentially, that's all we're talking about here. If I'm on the ground trying to make a go/no-go decision and a nearby AWOS isn't available, I can still use an App to get WU data or make a phone call ... IF that's all there was. I just can't get it via formal channels.

So you'd have to wonder why EAA, et al, feels that fewer maintenance visits for VFR weather stations is OK and connecting systems of questionable accuracy is OK? In this case, I feel the FAA made the correct decision. ( I must be sick?).

Posted by: Larry Stencel | May 12, 2018 6:05 AM    Report this comment

Larry, I agree with you but for one concern.

I think there is a lot of room in 2018 for modernization of this old system. You are 100% correct that issuing bogus weather data is worse than no report at all, but why in the world does that have to be the choice?

I occasionally fly out of a couple of relatively remote strips, one of which has an instrument approach (KLLR). It is crippling not to have reliable weather from that strip, and it seems as if providing it ought to be straightforward. With digital communication and remote sensing being what it is today, I would have thought it a trivial challenge.

Posted by: ANTHONY NASR | May 12, 2018 9:25 PM    Report this comment

Anthony, I learned to fly at Beale AFB and have flown into LLR and the other nearby airports. So I'm familiar with the unique requirements of all those airports near the ocean. You piqued my interest so I did some more research.

LLR does have an AWOS. It's callable by frequency and via telephone. I just tried the phone and it worked. It gives wind, temp, sky conditions and altimeter setting. What more would you want?

Posted by: Larry Stencel | May 13, 2018 9:37 AM    Report this comment

I was having a problem with the website flagging my comments for spam so I didn't finish. LLR has an AWOS-AV. It doesn't meet the AWOS III standard so it's not callable online so wouldn't be disseminated via FIS-B. However, if you were flying an approach, you'd still have the weather available to you via radio. OR ... in a pinch, you could phone it.

The airport where I spend my summers has an AWOS III P/T. I see it as being less than reliable since it's so complicated with many failure modes possible. Be careful what you ask for.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | May 13, 2018 9:55 AM    Report this comment

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