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Miami Center Controllers To FAA: Keep Meteorologists Here - (2/5/2009)

CONTACTS:  Steve Wallace, NATCA Miami Center Facility Representative, 954-401-1348; 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

MIAMI – In a potentially dangerous move the Federal Aviation Administration plans to remove on-site weather forecasters from Miami Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) in order to cut costs.  The Miami Center air traffic controllers, responsible for over 400,000 miles of airspace and much of the air traffic going to and from the United States, the Bahamas, Caribbean and Central and South America, are asking the FAA to cancel its plan – concerned 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 meteorologists are stationed in a forecast unit at each one of the FAA’s 21 ARTCCs, has been in place since 1978.  This was due to a National Transportation Safety Board recommendation after it determined that a major contributing factor to the 1977 Southern Airways DC-9 crash in New Hope, Ga. was the FAA’s air traffic control system’s inability to quickly disseminate information regarding hazardous weather to flight crews.

Despite NATCA and the National Weather Service Employees Organization (NWSEO) being vehemently opposed the FAA is set to move forward with its plan to remove the forecast units from each facility and consolidate them into two master facilities only housing meteorologists in Maryland and Kansas City.

Both NATCA and the National Weather Service Employees Organization (NWSEO) are opposed to this change due to the potentially dangerous effects the proposal could have on safety.  Though the National Airspace System and its controllers are largely dependent on various forms of technology to safely guide planes it can only help so much in inclement weather – when controllers are highly dependent on both the on-site meteorologists and the knowledge and insight they can provide, alerting the controllers as to what kind of impact a storm cell can have on flight operations.

In Southern Florida a storm can come out of nowhere and the controllers contribute the success of the center’s operation during infamous Florida thunderstorms to the center’s weather forecasters.

Said NATCA Miami Center Faciltiy Representative Steve Wallace:  “Right now in inclement weather you can turn the corner and ask someone, face-to-face, how a particular storm cell will affect your local airspace.  Consolidating these invaluable meteorologists into a centralized facility removes controllers’ accessibility to on-site, local knowledge of weather – and in South Florida, where nine months of the year the weather can change in an instant, that local perspective is irreplaceable.”

South Florida’s weather can often complicate operations, making it harder for controllers to guide planes while also avoiding various storm cells.  In the past eight years there have been five weather-related deaths in Miami Center’s airspace.

“I cannot imagine going through hurricane season without the aid of these dedicated professionals’ assistance at Miami Center’” said Wallace.  “There is no evidence that can be presented to convince me that the controllers keeping our skies safe can continue to do so without the on-site assistance of our weather forecasters.  These are highly trained professionals and they are intimately familiar with the weather patterns at Miami Center.  It is only by their physical presence in our operation that air traffic controllers are able to receive real time dissemination of hazardous weather information.”

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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