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Boston Center Controllers to FAA: Keep Metrorologists Here - (1/14/2009)

CONTACTS:  Kevin Bianchi, NATCA Boston Center Facility Representative, 603-930-6906; NATCA National Office, Alexandra Caldwell, 202-220-9813, acaldwell@natcadc.org; Dan Sobien, National Weather Service Employees Organization President, 941-727-8620 or202-420-1043

BOSTON – Air traffic controllers at Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC), along with their on-site weather forecasters, are asking the FAA to cancel its plan to remove meteorologists from the facility in order to cut costs.  Responsible for the airspace spanning over Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and part of New York, these air traffic controllers are concerned that the flying public traveling to, from and through this airspace will be at risk due to the FAA’s desire to cut costs.

The current system used by the meteorologists has been in place since 1978, a result of a recommendation made by the National Transportation Safety Board after it determined that a major contributing factor to the 1977 Southern Airways DC-9 crash in New Hope, Ga. was the FAA’s air traffic control system’s inability to quickly send hazardous weather information to flight crews. 

Each one of the FAA’s 21 regional air route traffic control centers (ARTCC) across the country has a forecast unit that provides face-to-face weather guidance to air traffic controllers and their supervisors.  The FAA’s new proposal (which both NATCA and the National Weather Service Employees Organization (NWSEO) are opposed to) is to remove the units from each individual facility and create two master facilities only housing meteorologists in Maryland and Kansas City

Both NATCA and the National Weather Service Employees Organization (NWSEO) are opposed to this change due to the potentially dangerous effects the proposal could have on safety.  While the system and controllers are dependent on many different forms of technology to guide planes it is the weather that can render that technology useless without a trained meteorologist there in the facility to alert the controllers and predict what kind of impact it will have on the facility’s operations.

Said NATCA Boston Center Facility Representative Kevin Bianchi:  “While it is relatively easy to provide general weather information for the air traffic control system nationwide, micro-systems affect each air traffic control facility dramatically. Therefore it is important that the National Weather Service have representatives assigned to each Air Route Traffic Control Center in the system.

“These representatives have weather information not only for the Continental United States, but also have more specific information for the facility to which they are assigned. It is this detailed and specific information that is invaluable to controllers – especially when an aircraft is experiencing an emergency that requires certain weather information to allow that aircraft the best opportunity to complete its flight safely.”

Each individual center’s weather unit provides continuously updated data to the controllers – with the added benefit of detailed local knowledge that can be critical in array of situations such as icing, turbulence, winds and airport conditions.

“In many cases being informed of local conditions by a meteorologist has allowed a controller to make informed decisions and suggestions to aircraft in trouble, resulting in lives being saved,” said Bianchi.

Despite signed letters and documents from numerous groups, some of which include the NTSB, the Government Accountability Office, Congress and the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General, urging the FAA to consider the importance of keeping the National Weather Service in each center the agency still plans to move forward with contracting out the weather service, and in turn the flying public’s safety

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