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Los Angeles Center Controllers to FAA: Keep Meteorologists Here - (2/9/2009)

CONTACTS:  Garth Koleszar, NATCA Los Angeles Center Facility Representative, 909-725-1908; NATCA National Office, Alexandra Caldwell, 202-220-9813, acaldwell@natcadc.org; Dan Sobien, National Weather Service Employees Organization President, 941-727-8620 or 202-420-1043

LOS ANGELES – Air traffic controllers at Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) and their on-site meteorologists are asking the FAA to cancel its plan to remove the weather forecasters in order to cut costs.

NATCA and the National Weather Service Employees Organization (NWSEO) are both opposed to this change because of the potentially dangerous effects it could have on the safety of the operation and therefore, the flying public.

Responsible for the traffic going in and out of three of the top ten busiest airports in the U.S.  – and air traffic in Southern California, Southern Nevada and Western Arizona  – the controllers at Los Angeles Center are wary of the FAA’s plan and are concerned that the flying public will be in danger if controllers are unable to disperse hazardous weather information to the flight crews.

The current system, in which on-site weather forecasters are stationed at each one of the FAA’s 21 centers, has been in place since 1978 – due to a recommendation made by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) when it found that the air traffic control system’s inability to quickly provide hazardous weather information to the flight crew was a major contributing factor in the 1977 Southern Airways DC-9 crash in New Hope, Ga.

The FAA’s new plan will consolidate all ARTCC’s on-site weather forecasters into two facilities located in Kansas City and College Park, Md. 

While technology drives the majority of air traffic control operations hazardous weather can throw a wrench in those plans, thus necessitating the presence of an on-site meteorologist who is familiar with the local area and can best advise controllers as to what kind of impact a particular storm cell will have on the operation – for this reason, both NATCA and the National Weather Service Employees Organization (NWSEO) are opposed to this change.

These controllers working this airspace face many challenges, including the weather of Southern California.  From Santa Ana winds in excess of 100 mph to the severe turbulence those winds cause when passing over high terrain and quickly developing thunderstorms in the deserts these controllers depend greatly on their on-site meteorologists.

Said NATCA Los Angeles Center Facility Representative Garth Koleszar:  “The value of having seasoned and dedicated weather professionals, who are intimately familiar with the Southern California area, working side-by-side with the controllers is immeasurable.”

Because of the local knowledge that these forecasters provide the controllers are better able to direct traffic – for example, rerouting an aircraft around a thunderstorm.  Losing the specific area knowledge that these professionals have acquired over many years of interaction with controllers will render the controllers far less effective in disseminating the latest and most accurate weather data to flight crews.

“The steady interaction and exchange of constantly changing weather information is critical to the safety of everyone who flies through Southern California, Nevada and Western Arizona,” said Koleszar.  “When bad weather pops up, you want information from someone who lives in the area, knows the area and all its unique weather features, and can provide that knowledge face-to-face to the controllers on the other end of the frequency. That is what we provide today, and that is what safety demands we should provide tomorrow. It seems someone is forgetting that.”

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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