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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 07/16/2009

Hearing Today on Controversial Flight Safety Plan

By Andrew Freedman

Proposal would consolidate aviation weather forecasters

* Hello, Humidity: Full Forecast | NatCast | Wind Farms & Weather *
* Federal Eye: More Storm Clouds for FAA-Weather Service Plan *

The House Science Subcommittee on Investigations & Oversight is holding an 11 a.m. hearing today (hearing info and webcast) to discuss plans to move National Weather Service forecasters out of the nation's 20 regional air traffic control centers and consolidate operations in two central facilities. The proposal, put forth by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Weather Service, has come under fire from some who say it could jeopardize air safety by making forecasters harder to reach in emergency situations.

Currently, meteorologists serving as part of "Center Weather Service Units" are on hand at the air traffic facilities to provide weather forecasting support. The air traffic facilities in question typically handle air traffic at high altitudes flowing between airports, and are distinct from the support units located at many airport control towers.

Keep reading for more on the FAA's proposal...

The plan would move the small teams of forecasters to a facility in College Park, Md., and one in Kansas City. As this blog and the Federal Eye have reported, the plan is opposed by the National Weather Service Employees Organization (NWSEO), which believes that it could endanger public safety. "This plan will not save money and it's certainly not about saving lives," said NWSEO president Dan Sobien in a press release. "If you were experiencing a weather-related flight emergency, who would you want helping you -- a trained meteorologist with knowledge of local weather working in the same room as the air traffic controller or remote technology from a meteorologist in Kansas City who is monitoring events from [the] Virgin Islands to the Pacific Ocean?"

The FAA maintains that safety would not be compromised, and that the plan could save money by centralizing operations, although officials have stated that no jobs would be cut. The plan calls for a demonstration project to take place first to make sure that air safety would not be affected.

By Andrew Freedman  | July 16, 2009; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Government, News & Notes  
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Comments

Big question is: whether this WILL cause a decline in the accuracy & usefulness of aviation weather forecasts. Sounds a bit like these penny-wise pound-foolish cutbacks that Metro keeps pushing on us in late-night public transit.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | July 16, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Weather forecasting is done best when done locally. Every area has its own weather idiosyncrasies. These idiosyncrasies are best known and their impacts best predicted by local weather forecasters.

Weather is local. And weather forecasting should be done locally.

Who would you trust more with a Washington D.C. forecast, a local D.C. weatherman or a weatherman sitting in Dallas, Texas?

Now imagine that your flight planning depends on the quality of the product being given to you. Do you really want someone sitting in a different state giving you the local forecast for D.C.?

It is a bad idea and it should be scrapped.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | July 16, 2009 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Ed O'Keefe at the Post's The Federal Eye has details of testimony today from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which stated in part, "Any changes to the current structure could degrade aviation operations and safety -- and the agencies may not know it." Apparently many details may need to be worked out before this goes forward.

Posted by: Andrew-CapitalWeatherGang | July 16, 2009 1:45 PM | Report abuse

"Any changes to the current structure could degrade aviation operations and safety -- and the agencies may not know it."

It will be a huge degradation to operations. I don't think it will be much of a degradation to safety, but it *probably* will be a tiny degradation to safety. Primarily in locations without a weather observer and operating tower. But that is wading into the tall grass and doesn't affect that many flights.

The big hit will be flight operations. You will see a pronounced increase in weather delays in both arrivals and departures. Pilots will adhere to existing regulations (which is why safety won't take much of a hit), but flight planning will. If the forecast at the destination is for clear, blue and 22, but it turns out to be soup, the pilots will land elsewhere.

The passengers will be the ones most adversely affected by this change. It is a bad idea.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | July 16, 2009 2:31 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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