Federal Eye: More Storm Clouds for FAA and Weather Service?

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.

The basic plan 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 of the plan, focused especially on how the new setup would impact service quality and aircraft safety, according to NOAA spokesman Christopher Vaccaro. The National Academy of Sciences will perform an independent review of the plan and report back.

“No final decisions or commitments on any CWSU changes have been made,” Vaccaro noted, reminding us that the FAA has to make the final call.

The union representing the impacted forecasters is — 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.

The FAA says advances in technology make face-to-face contact between controllers and forecasters unnecessarily expensive.

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