Unions Lobby for ATC Center Forecasters

 - December 11, 2006, 6:07 AM

The two federal government labor unions that represent air traffic controllers and employees of the National Weather Service (NWS) have asked the FAA to reconsider a plan to eliminate on-site meteorologist positions at each of the ATC en route centers. The FAA plans to contract with a commercial weather company to provide forecasts from one remote centralized location.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (Natca) argues that such a move would leave them without the ability to obtain and relay vital weather information in a timely manner to aircraft experiencing difficulty and would have an adverse effect on safety.

The National Weather Service Employees Organization (NWSEO) said that the plan to contract for weather services will violate the NWS Organic Act, the Federal Aviation Act and the Federal Activities Inventory Reform Act of 1998.

The FAA established the on-site meteorologist positions–called a Center Weather Service Unit (CWSU)–at each of the en route centers in 1978 as a result of a recommendation from the NTSB, which determined that one of the major contributing factors in a Southern Airways DC-9 crash in New Hope, Ga., was that the FAA lacked the ability to disseminate hazardous weather information to flight crews in real time. The FAA contracted with the NWS to provide meteorologists to staff a newly established weather unit at each center.

“We share the view of [NWSEO] that the elimination of the CWSUs through centralization would be a major setback for aviation safety, with degraded service for en route traffic and elevated safety concerns for general aviation,” said Natca president Patrick Forrey. The NWSEO told the FAA that if it proceeds with the plan, the agency should advise potential contractors that the matter will become the subject of federal litigation.