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Cleveland Center Controllers Fighting to Keep Safe System for Predicting Hazardous Weather - (2/20/2009)

CONTACTS:  Melissa Ott, NATCA Cleveland Center Facility Representative, (440) 670-1650; 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

CLEVELAND – To save money the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) plans to remove on-site weather forecasters from the Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) and the other 20 centers across the country.  The controllers currently share a face-to-face interaction with the meteorologists that have local knowledge of the weather and can provide insight as to how that weather will affect flight operations.  If the FAA’s plan is to go into effect this will be lost when the meteorologists are consolidated into two facilities in Kansas City and Maryland.

Both NATCA and the National Weather Service Employees Organization (NWSEO) oppose this plan because it will remove a layer of safety that the controller workforce finds invaluable. 

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

The Cleveland Center controllers (responsible for the airspace over parts of Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan) depend greatly on the guidance of the on-site forecasters which allows controllers to send hazardous weather information quickly to flight crews.  Having the meteorologists in the facility is a great benefit, especially considering the close proximity that Cleveland Center’s airspace has to Lake Erie.  With lake effect snow in the winter and thunderstorms building up off the lake very quickly in the summer the forecasters are necessary to safe aircraft operations.

Said NATCA Cleveland Center Facility Representative: “The idea of removing our on-site weather forecasters is preposterous.  Controllers need immediate access to these hard-working individuals.  I equate it to an airbag in a car.  Yes, it costs more money to put them in then leave them out but when you need them they are there. The FAA should never put a price on safety.”

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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