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Atlanta Center Controllers Fighting to Keep Safe System for Predicting Hazardous Weather - (2/19/2009)

CONTACTS:  Calvin Phillips, NATCA Atlanta Center Facility Representative, 678-571-0571; 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

ATLANTA – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) wants to remove all on-site meteorologists from the 21 air route traffic control centers (ARTCCs) across the country, including Atlanta Center.

NATCA and the National Weather Service Employees Organization (NWSEO) are opposed to this plan for the potentially devastating effects it could have on the safety of the flying public, eliminating the face-to-face guidance controllers receive from meteorologists by moving them to two facilities in Kansas City and College Park, Md.

The current system, in place since 1978, is a result of a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendation after it was found that the air traffic control system’s inability to quickly disseminate hazardous weather information to flight crews was a major contributing factor to the 1977 Southern Airways DC-9 crash in New Hope, Ga.

Controllers working at Atlanta Center are responsible for guiding the air traffic traveling to, from and through parts of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Alabama.  They, combined with the meteorologists they work with, are part of a unique and vital local team involved in the minute-to-minute decision making process that enables them to quickly relay hazardous weather information and reroute instructions to flight crews.  The loss of that face-to-face communication cannot be replicated from a remote location.

The Southern weather, with pop-up thunderstorms from March through November, can often throw a loop into flight operations for the Atlanta Center controllers.  The humidity and the ever-present threat of budding thunderstorms create a constant need for on-site meteorologist expertise.

Said NATCA Atlanta Center Facility Representative Calvin Phillips: “The loss of our on-site weather experts would be a critical blow to the safety of the flight crews and the passengers.  Each center’s on-site forecasters have local knowledge and expertise, with respect to weather patterns and phenomenon and how they effect aircraft operations.  Losing that expertise would surely compromise the safety of the flying public. 

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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