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Albuquerque Center Controllers to FAA: Keep Meteorologists Here - (2/17/2009)

CONTACTS:  Mike Meredith, NATCA Albuquerque Center Facility Representative, 505-463-2211; 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

ALBUQUERQUE – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) plans to remove all on-site weather forecasters from Albuquerque Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) in order to save money.  Both NATCA and the National Weather Service Employees Organization (NWSEO) oppose this plan, for it will remove the face-to-face interaction that controllers share with the meteorologists, removing a vital safety net.

If the FAA goes through with its plan all meteorologists from the FAA’s 21 air route traffic control centers from across the country will be consolidated into two facilities in Kansas City and Maryland.

The current system has been in place since 1978 due to a recommendation made by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).  The air traffic control system’s inability to quickly disseminate hazardous weather information to flight crews was found to be one of the major contributing factors to the 1977 Southern Airways DC-9 crash in New Hope, Ga.

Albuquerque Center controllers are responsible for some of the most geographically and climatologically diverse airspace in the nation.  From the Sonora Desert in Southwest Arizona to the plains of West Texas and the Rocky Mountains, the controllers face a unique array of diverse and hazardous weather.  The on-site forecasters help the controllers guide air traffic through and around the tornadoes in Eastern New Mexico and West Texas, summer thunderstorms, and the catastrophic turbulence caused when jet stream winds interact with the Rocky Mountains – called Mountain Wave. 

Though common, the thunderstorms are not only dangerous in and of themselves – the gust fronts associated with these micro bursts often create dangerous wind shear and dust storms that can reduce visibility to zero in a matter of seconds, especially in the summer monsoon season from late June through September.

Said NATCA Albuquerque Center Facility Representative Mike Meredith:  “The meteorologists at Albuquerque Center have more than 45 years of combined experience in forecasting and an intimate understanding of the complex weather we face.  By working side-by-side with them we are able to do our job better, which is to the best interest of the flying public.”

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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