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Denver Center Controllers to FAA: Keep Meteorologists Here - (2/10/2009)

CONTACTS:  Lyle Burrington, NATCA Denver Center Facility Representative, 970-310-3421; 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

DENVER – Putting cost above safety, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) plans to remove on-site weather forecasters from Denver Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) and consolidate weather forecasters from each of the FAA’s 21 ARTCCs across the country into two facilities in Kansas City and College Park, Md. 

The controllers working at Denver Center are responsible for aircraft traveling to, from and through parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Arizona.  Without on-site meteorologists the controllers are left to fend for themselves in cases of inclement weather and gauging how a particular weather cell will affect flight operations.

NATCA and the National Weather Service Employees Organization (NWSEO) are asking the FAA to cancel its plan due to their concern that the flying public will be at risk if controllers are suddenly unable to quickly send hazardous weather info to flight crews.

The current system, where on-site meteorologists are stationed in weather forecast units in each one of the FAA’s ARTCCs, was put in place in 1978 as a result of a recommendation made by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).  The FAA’s air traffic control system’s inability to quickly disseminate information regarding hazardous weather to flight crews was found to be a major contributing factor in the 1977 Southern Airways DC-9 crash in New Hope, Ga.

Weather, in particular the rapidly moving weather systems of Denver and the surrounding mountainous area, can and will alter the way in which controllers direct air traffic – no matter what technology is available to them.  For that reason the on-site forecasters, the face-to-face interactions the controllers have with those forecasters and the insight they provide are all irreplaceable and are all factors that the FAA has failed to consider in making this plan.

“Weather patterns in mountainous terrain are very unpredictable and dangerous and they can change in a second.  For just this reason alone it is imperative for the safety of the flying public that Denver Center keep its on-site meteorologists,” said NATCA Denver Center Facility Representative Lyle Burrington. 

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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