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Salt Lake City Center Controllers to FAA: Keep Meteorologists Here - (2/12/2009)

CONTACTS:  Doug Pincock, NATCA Salt Lake City Center Facility Representative, 801-971-4078; 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

SALT LAKE CITY – In a cost-cutting move the FAA will remove all on-site weather forecasters from Salt Lake Center and every air route traffic control center (ARTCC) around the country.  Both NATCA and the National Weather Service Employees Organization (NWSEO) oppose this plan for the potentially dangerous effect it could have on the flying public by hindering a controllers’ ability to quickly send hazardous weather information to flight crews.

The current system used by the meteorologists has been in place since 1978, a result of a recommendation made by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) 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 send hazardous weather information to flight crews.  The FAA’s new proposal entails removing all on-site forecasters and consolidating them into two facilities in College Park, Md. and Kansas City – removing the face-to-face interaction controllers share with them and slowing down the rate in which they can send weather information to pilots.

The controllers at Salt Lake Center are responsible for the largest geographical airspace in the lower 48 states – covering parts of Utah, Nevada, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming – and the local knowledge and insight into hazardous weather that the on-site forecasters are able to provide is invaluable. 

Said NATCA Salt Lake City Center Facility Representative Doug Pincock:  “As controllers we rely on their expertise to forecast changes in the weather and base traffic volume decisions on information they provide.  We frequently pass that information along to pilots who use it in determining whether to hold and wait for improvements in the weather or divert to an alternate airport.”

Every day controllers receive a briefing from one of the forecasters as to what impact weather will have on flight operations for that day.  “If we lose that we lost the speed in which we can safely move airplanes,” said Pincock.  Removing the meteorologists won’t improve the efficiency or safety of the national airspace system in any way.  The FAA is proposing a reduction in the margin of safety and service just to save a few dollars.

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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