More Storm Clouds for FAA and Weather Service?
Updated 8:51 p.m. ET
By Ed O'Keefe and Steve Vogel
The National Weather Service today finally got around to delivering those long-anticipated recommendations on changing the FAA's use of government meteorologists at its Air Route Traffic Control Centers, a decision blasted by unions representing government forecasters and air traffic controllers.
The basic plan (pdf) calls for downsizing the 20 National Weather Service Center Weather Service Units (or CWSUs for short), to just two: one in College Park, Md. and another in Kansas City.
If the FAA approves the propsal, NWS will perform a nine-month demonstration, most likely in Kansas City, focused especially on how the new setup would impact service quality and aircraft safety. The demonstration would be overseen by an independent body of experts convened by the National Academy of Sciences, according to NOAA spokesman Christopher Vaccaro. The consolidation would move forward only if the panel concludes it does not impact air safety, according to Commerce spokeswoman Parita Shah. (The National Weather Service is operated by NOAA, which is part of the Commerce Department.)
No weather service employees will lose jobs under the proposed consolidation, according to federal officials, though job locations would change.
Unions representing the impacted forecasters and air traffic controllers are -- to put it mildly -- unhappy.
Dan Sobien, president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, said that if the plan is implemented, "air traffic controllers will no longer have the immediate expertise of an on-site meteorologist to advise them where to route aircraft experiencing difficulty when weather conditions play a critical role in that decision." He cited a January 2006 Booz-Allen study conducted for the FAA that concluded that all seven air traffic control centers that participated in the study preferred face-to-face interaction with meteorologists rather than contact by e-mail, instant messaging or phone, as called for in the proposal.
“This is a foolish plan that puts cost savings ahead of safety," National Air Traffic Controllers Association President Patrick Forrey said in a statement. "Quite frankly, we cannot believe such a reckless idea has gotten this far. The public needs to know that if put into place, this plan would directly and negatively affect the margin of safety for the air traffic control system.”
The FAA says advances in technology make face-to-face contact between controllers and forecasters unnecessarily expensive.
The proposal was sent today to the FAA by John L. “Jack” Hayes, director of the National Weather Service, which is part of the Commerce Department. Officials there have stressed throughout this process that the new plan will not cause job losses for the affected forecasters nor jeopardize air safety.
The FAA has received the report but has not yet reviewed it, according to Paul Takemoto, a spokesman for the agency.
The proposal comes in response to pressure from the FAA, which funds the cost of the weather stations and has pressed NWS to come up with less costly ways of providing forecasts to the regional air traffic control centers.
• Related: Eye on the National Weather Service (Feb. 23, 2008)
| June 4, 2009; 5:14 PM ET
Categories: Agencies and Departments, Turf War
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