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Improved Weather Systems, Training, Communication Keys to Increasing Aviation Safey - (7/21/1999)

WASHINGTON - The blurry line between what was once the National Weather Serviceís jurisdiction and what is now the Federal Aviation Administrationís responsibility for aviation weather services needs to be clarified, according to testimony given before a House of Representatives subcommittee by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association on July 22.

"While the FAA is charged with providing aviation weather service, overlap with the National Weather Service is confusing and limiting," said Calvin Smith, NATCA liaison to the FAAís Aviation Weather Directorate. Smith testified that restructuring this relationship as well as improving weather systems and increasing controllerís weather-specific training can result in increased safety for the flying public.

Currently, one-quarter of all aviation accidents are weather related. Until 1995, the National Weather Service provided the bulk of aviation weather observations, including radar information, warnings and forecasts. Prodded by the push to "re-invent government," that responsibility was transferred to the FAA. It established the Aviation Weather Directorate to identify aviation weather needs and capabilities associated with disseminating information to air traffic controllers and pilots.

While the FAA has provided updated weather technology at several airports, especially those with chronically dangerous weather, air traffic controllers often donít have access to the improved systems. Many controllers canít utilize the graphic display terminals that show weather conditions much like the colored maps from a television weathercast, because the FAA fails to provide access to these displays.

One of the most advanced weather systems, Integrated Terminal Weather System, is slated for deployment at 45 facilities once testing is completed. However, a cost of more than $1 million per facility makes universal application extremely pricey.

"The major focus must be how to provide the safety benefits this type of system offers, while keeping it at a cost that doesnít prohibit the use of this technology," said Smith. "NATCA has been pushing for better equipment and increased training for years, however, the bureaucracy involved with implementing a new system as well as recent budget cuts have slowed the process even more."

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