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Kansas City Center Controllers to FAA: Keep Meteorologists Here - (2/11/2009)

CONTACTS:  Ed Townend, NATCA Kansas City Center Facility Representative, 816-668-1171; NATCA National Office, Alexandra Caldwell, 202-997-7741, acaldwell@natcadc.org; Dan Sobien, National Weather Service Employees Organization President, 941-727-8620 or 202-420-1043

KANSAS CITY – The FAA has decided to remove weather forecasters from Kansas City Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) in order to save money – removing yet another vital tool that controllers use to protect aircraft and the flying public from hazardous weather.

Both NATCA and the National Weather Service Employees Organization (NWSEO) oppose the FAA’s plan because of the potentially dangerous effect that it could have on the flying public’s safety.  By removing the meteorologists and consolidating them, as well as those on-site meteorologists from centers across the U.S., into two sites the FAA is taking away the face-to-face interaction that the controllers share with the forecasters – and the local insight they provide the controllers regarding the effect that weather can have on flight operations.

The current system, in which on-site weather forecasters are stationed in each one of the FAA’s 21 ARTCCs across the country, has been in place since 1978 due to a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendation.  It was found that the air traffic control system’s inability to quickly provide hazardous weather information to the flight crew was a major contributing factor to the 1977 Southern Airways DC-9 crash in New Hope, Ga.

Controllers may rely heavily on the facility’s technology but hazardous weather can render it useless without the assistance and guidance of the on-site meteorologists.

The airspace that Kansas City controls is in tornado alley – where severe weather such as isolated thunderstorms and tornadoes are common.  Because of this the weather forecasters continually interact with the controllers, exchanging time critical information regarding the movement of severe weather and damaging storms.  In 2008 Kansas City Center set a record for the number of pilot reports (definition here) with 14,139 filed, up from 13,214 from 2007. 

Said NATCA Kansas City Center Facility Representative Ed Townend:  “I cannot imagine going through a thunderstorm season without professional meteorologists here in the building.  The local insight they provide cannot be replaced and losing that specific area knowledge will not only render the controllers here less effective but could put the flying public at risk.”

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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