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FAA Trying to Eliminate Proven, Safe System for Weather Forecasting - (2/12/2009)

CONTACTS:  Rich Santa, NATCA Washington Center Facility Representative, 240-291-1266; 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

WASHINGTON – Air traffic controllers at Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) and their on-site meteorologists oppose an FAA plan that will remove the weather forecasters to save money, relocating them to two facilities in Kansas City and College Park, Md.

Both NATCA and the National Weather Service Employees Organization (NWSEO) oppose this change because of the potentially dangerous effects it could have on the safety of the flying public.

Responsible for one of the country’s busiest sections of airspace, the controllers at Washington Center guide aircraft through a multi-state region including New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina – as well as the always busy Washington-Metropolitan area.  Because of the constant high-volume of traffic it is vital that the controllers get the most accurate weather information.

The current system has been in place since 1978 – due to a recommendation made by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) when it found that the air traffic control system’s inability to quickly provide hazardous weather information to the flight crew was a major contributing factor in the 1977 Southern Airways DC-9 crash in New Hope, Ga.

While technology drives the majority of air traffic control operations hazardous weather can throw a wrench in those plans, thus necessitating the presence of an on-site meteorologist who is familiar with the local area and can best advise controllers as to what kind of impact a particular storm cell will have on the operation.

Said NATCA Washington Center Facility Representative Rich Santa:  “The weather resources available to us at Washington Center are second to none, with good reason.  They are a vital part of the safe operations at Washington Center.  Because the controllers at Washington Center have been cut in numbers, are working longer hours and are expected to do more with less for too long the weather unit here is something that we can't do without.”

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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