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Indianapolis Center Air Traffic Controllers Ask FAA: Please Keep Meteorologists Here - (1/27/2009)

CONTACT: Thomas Thompson, NATCA Indianapolis Center facility representative, 317-331-3423; Doug Church, NATCA National Office, 301-346-8245; Dan Sobien, National Weather Service Employees Organization president, 941-727-8620 or 202-420-1043 

INDIANAPOLIS – Air traffic controllers at the Indianapolis Air Route Traffic Control Center today are joining with their on-site weather forecasting colleagues in asking the Federal Aviation Administration to shelve plans to pull the meteorologists out of the facility and consolidate this critical nationwide weather service in a cost-cutting move that would threaten the safety of air travel in the busy skies above the Midwest. 

The weather forecasters in Indianapolis have many years of experience forecasting weather specific to Indiana and the Midwest. High winds, fog, icing, snow, severe turbulence, thunderstorms and tornadoes require local expertise. 

“The on-site weather forecasters are well known to each of the over 400 air traffic controllers here,” said NATCA Indy Center Facility Representative Thomas Thompson. “Our weather forecasters not only study radar and the data that is called into them daily, but they also go out to the controllers to solicit information first hand. This type of face-to-face, raw dissemination of weather data is critical when you consider how important it is to get the information to each of the literally thousands of flights it will affect. Not only get it to them, but get it to them in time for it to matter.” 

The FAA has given the National Weather Service (NWS) until Feb. 23 to submit its ideas on how to replace the current safe, effective system, which has been in place since 1978 as a result of a recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The NTSB determined that one of the major contributing factors in the Southern Airways DC-9 crash in New Hope, Ga., on April 4, 1977, was the FAA’s air traffic control system’s inability to disseminate hazardous weather information to flight crews on a real time basis. 

The FAA has proposed eliminating these forecast units in each of the FAA’s 21 regional air traffic control facilities and create two central units in Maryland and Kansas City. Both NATCA and the National Weather Service Employees Organization (NWSEO) are adamantly opposed to this plan for safety reasons. 

Controllers at Indianapolis Center are responsible for a wide swath of airspace extending over parts of Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky and Illinois. 

"The proposal to remove on-site weather personal at radar centers across the country and placing them in two locations would seem to be an attempt to automate Mother Nature," Thompson said. "Hopefully the FAA realizes you don't mess with Mother Nature before a force more powerful than it seems to realize shows the agency the error of its ways."

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