The Department of Commerce announced on June 4 that it is moving forward with a controversial plan to close the National Weather Service units located at each of the 20 Air Route Traffic Control Centers in the continental United States. The forecast units provide real time, face-to-face, weather guidance to air traffic controllers and air traffic management supervisors.
“If DOC’s plan is implemented, air traffic controllers will no longer have the immediate expertise of an on-site meteorologist to advise them where to route aircraft experiencing difficulty when weather conditions play a critical role in that decision,” said Dan Sobien, president of the National Weather Service employees’ union. NWS forecasters at the ARTCCs routinely provide emergency assistance to aircraft that have lost instrumentation during bad weather, Sobien said pointedly.
The NWS has offered to send the FAA forecasts from two central units located in Maryland and Kansas City instead.
Under the plan approved by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, who oversees the NWS, only the “lead forecaster on duty” will be available at each of the two consolidated CWSUs to provide support to ten ARTCCs at a time. They will provide emergency support by instant messaging or telephone rather than face-to-face, and may be unavailable due to competing demands from other ARTCCs. Currently, each ARTCC has a dedicated forecaster on duty on-site.
New York Sen. Charles Schumer is outspoken about how the consolidation would affect flight safety at New York’s airports. Schumer posted on his web site: “Our airspace and airports are the most complex and congested in the world and to move the local experts away is simply penny wise and pound foolish. The bottom line is the … consolidation plans could compromise air travel safety and reduce the efficiency of travel in New York City and we simply cannot allow that to happen.”