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Houston Center Controllers to FAA: Keep Meteorologists Here - (2/10/2009)

CONTACTS:  Andrew LeBovidge, NATCA Houston Center Facility Representative, 713-301-0195; 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

HOUSTON – In order to cut costs the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) plans to remove all on-site weather forecasters from Houston Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) in addition to all of the FAA’s 21 air route traffic control centers across the country – putting the flying public at risk with this potentially dangerous move that will hinder controllers’ ability to quickly send hazardous weather info to flight crews.

Both NATCA and the National Weather Service Employees Organization (NWSEO) are opposed to such a plan – seeing major issues with consolidating all on-site weather forecasters in two facilities in Kansas City and College Park, Md.  Such a plan removes the face-to-face access controllers once had to meteorologists with local weather knowledge.

In place since 1978, the current system 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.

The controllers at Houston Center are responsible for airspace spanning over Southern Texas and parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Gulf of Mexico and though air traffic control is technology-intensive, hazardous weather can render that technology useless at any given moment.  The controllers are better able to advise flight crews as to what effect a particular storm system will have on operations—thanks to the on-site weather forecasters.  Using their locally-honed expertise to predict possible effects caused by the dynamic weather patterns along the Gulf Coast, the on-site weather forecasters’ insight has proven invaluable over the years.

Said NATCA Houston Center Facility Repre        sentative Andrew LeBovidge:  "Severe weather can wreak havoc on air traffic along the Gulf Coast for most of the year.  Having meteorologists immediately available to assist in the strategic and tactical decisions necessary for the safety of the system is invaluable.  Coordinating with someone remotely located, who may or may not be familiar with the intricacies of our weather, is simply unacceptable to the controllers at Houston Center."

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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