Maine Senator legislates that Contract Weather Observers are more Safety critical than… what?

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FAA Contract Weather Observers

The Senior Senator from Maine, Susan Collins, authored an amendment to FAA Reauthorization Act that would prohibit the Federal Aviation Administration from closing dozens of contract weather observer offices, including two in Maine. It was included in the bill which the Senate passed. She explained, “Contract weather observers are vital to ensuring that flights in and out of our airports are safe for air crews and passengers in Maine and across our country… Delegating this responsibility to air traffic controllers, who must also monitor and manage air traffic, poses an unnecessary safety risk.

faa contract weather observers

As a 24 year Member of the Senate, she should be aware that the FAA’s budget is tight and the Administrator is making a concerted effort to balance the dollars available against the safety mission. The Senate gave advice and consent to Mr. Huerta’s nomination to exercise executive judgment over the difficult budgetary decisions.

faa contract weather observers

The considered, expert decision of the Administrator and his team is that the value of contract weather observers is less than the efficacy of already paid for and in place computerized and instrumented facilities established throughout the nation. The Automated Weather Observation System and its companion Automated Surface Observation System, were designed with the assistance of the National Weather Service. As can be seen the information is transmitted to the working controllers for their use on a real time, accurate basis.

faa contract weather observers

While one would hope that people’s jobs could be saved, the existence of an effective, safe alternative frees funds for other FAA positions/expenses. Tightening budgets are all too often “zero sum games.” Typically such decisions, like the closure of the Contract Weather Observers, involve multiple iterations, choosing between difficult options. The end result of such a budget review by the FAA was that AWOS/ASOS provided a better, in terms of safety and dollars, alternative than the Observers.

The dollars saved then allowed some more critical safety priority to be adequately funded.

Perhaps, the Maine Senator would like to instruct the FAA when it restores the Contract Weather Observers to reduce

or

  • some other existing FAA safety project less deserving than Contract Weather Observers?

Another possible alternative might be to accept the wisdom of Administrator Huerta in making such difficult decisions involving choices among difficult trade-offs.

 

ARTICLE: Sen. Collins fights to save airport jobs in Portland, Bangor after I-Team report
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4 Comments on "Maine Senator legislates that Contract Weather Observers are more Safety critical than… what?"

  1. If the AWOS and ASOS are able to safely replace the human weather observer at 57 of the nations mid-sized airports, then why is it not safe at the larger airports? It is either safe or not safe. The larger airports have more controllers to offset duties. But they also get weather observers too. Thunderstorms and dense fog no longer count as bad weather, so I guess the FAA has made thunderstorms and dense fog safe too. ASOS and AWOS only report what their limited sensors can detect. If these ASOS and AWOS systems are not safe at large airports, they are not safe at mid-sized airports! Mid-sized city residents pay federal taxes too and deserve to be treated with equal safety requirements, government protection and concern.

  2. Dear Mr. Joseph M. Del Balzo:

    I’m not sure your idea of what is “safe” and what is not safe has any merit. Do you really believe that making flying even 1% less safe is a good idea in an era when there are more people flying than ever? Let me back-track and ask you as well: Do you really think to Mr. Huerta, FAA Administrator, has any personal clue as to what service Contract Weather Observers (CWOs) actually provide? I really think you’re naive if you believe Mr. Huerta came to the conclusion that CWOs need to be cut (and their responsibilities handed over to the Air Traffic Controllers) because he really understands what is even involved in the job of a CWO. He looked like a proverbial deer in the headlights when questioned by Congress a month ago about the possibility of any weather observing stations being cut. Not a clue at all as to what was even being asked of him. Didn’t look like a leader who makes sound decisions and has people actually report to him on any findings and any budgetary decisions that are proposed. Meanwhile, at all of these supposed FAA Local Safety Risk Management meetings that the airports on the possible cut list had in the last few months, people are being told that the cuts are a “done deal”, not to mention that the FAA has already included these “cost savings” in their proposed budget. Some real transparency going on their in our very own Federal Government.

    Besides the fact that your former boss, the FAA, has lied at every corner to try to get the ends to justify their means (see above for example), the potential savings in cutting the entire 136 site CWO program (not just the 57 proposed sites) would equate to less than 0.3% of the entire FAA budget. Mind you, they really wouldn’t be saving that at all (and probably would end up spending more) because we all know that more ATC would end up being needed to “man” ASOS/AWOS. This does not even get into the discussion on “why in the heck would you get rid of trained, experienced, meteorologists and replace them with ATC to run the weather instruments at an airport?”.

    Mr. Del Balzo you need to get a clue and quit acting like you still work for the FAA. All of your pretty pictures in your article and all of your credentials are nice and all, but they have very little to do with our airport weather observation systems and certainly do not take into account the fact that ASOS/AWOS will never run by itself at medium and large airports. Sure, it’s nice to have an automated system where there was nothing at all being reported before, but this is only at small to puddle-jumping sizes airports where there is very little air traffic to begin with. Trained people are needed (who don’t already have a job handling air traffic) to augment and back up these systems so that skies are safe for the hundreds of millions of airplanes that take off and land at airports every year in the United States alone. For you to say that CWOs and the important job that they do are less important than any of the things you list in your article is just plain wrong. The FAA, if need be, can surely make cuts somewhere else (starting with all of the “administrators” they have) before picking on the little, unprotected, contract, person who has a relatively unknown, but important job to do. Perhaps some education on your part and Mr. Huerta, as well, on what a weather observer actually does is due:

    “Weather observers edit (augment what ASOS cannot do at all or backup what ASOS can do but is getting wrong) basically everything you see in a typical METAR/SPECI observation other than the time. ASOS is, of course, the Automated Surface Observing System that was given to the FAA/DOD by the National Weather Service about 15-20 years ago and I believe sold to them as a truly automated system that would not need human interaction. ASOSs are located at just about every towered airport across the nation (and even some non-towered airports). Of course, the NWS may have just wanted to stop paying their own government employees or contract personnel to edit ASOS and it may be that the government ruled that the NWS should not be providing aviation observations as the FAA should take care of it.

    At any rate, observers typically backup winds, visibility, cloud coverage and heights, temperature and dewpoint. The most typical backups come in visibility and cloud coverage and heights, which can be changing fairly constantly in a heavy rain or snowstorm situation. There are also a whole slew of remarks that must be augmented when applicable such as tornado and funnel cloud distance, location, and movement, thunderstorm location and movement (not to mention significant cloud types like CBs and TCUs and their location and movement), lightning location and frequency, ice pellets and freezing rain (don’t let anyone try to tell you that ASOS can properly pick up on freezing rain by the way), variable and sector visibility, variable sky condition as well as clouds above 12,000 feet, not to mention snow increasing and actual snow on the ground, blowing snow, dust, sand, smoke, etc., and many more backups and augments that are listed in FAA Order 7900.5C.

    At the risk of sounding like an advertisement, the bottom line is this: The ATC personnel are not going to consistently and properly back up and augment ASOS because they either don’t know how to, are too busy actually doing their ATC job, or don’t believe it should be part of their job description (and I don’t blame them). In other words, ASOS will end up running by itself with very little human interaction and good luck with getting an accurate METAR that is up to date. And I haven’t even started to talk about ASOS sensors that go out to service for days (not just hours) at a time when things have to be backed up for every single METAR/SPECI or they’ll appear as M (missing) or just not part of the METAR at all. Then someone has put the real observation on to the internet manually so everyone can actually get the correct METAR. Or the junk that ASOS will try to pump out when the weather is perfect. Trust me, there are a lot of gremlins at work with the ASOS and it does seem to have a mind of its own at times.

    Either way, let’s face it, ASOS is built on 1980s technology and even if they came out with a brand new ASOS built on today’s technology, it would still need human interaction. ASOS is basically a slow, pathetic piece of antiquated technology that cannot keep up with the brain-power of a human constantly watching the weather and it cannot be trusted. I sometimes wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to go back to the old days of manual, non-automated observations because sometimes ASOS actually creates more work in trying to edit it when it’s getting things wrong, which is basically during every bad weather situation.

    I am not trying to offend anyone by the above statement about ATC personnel, I am just trying to be honest of what I have seen at relatively low traffic airports where they are already tasked with editing ASOS. Imagine medium or high traffic airports and in bad weather situations (thunderstorms, snowstorms, etc.) and someone who already is extremely busy, having to worry about performing a second job. It’s just not possible that things are going to get done and then there’s going to be an accident. Let ATC perform their jobs and let weather observers perform theirs.”

    Sincerely,
    Mr. Todd J. Skobjak
    Certified Aviation Weather Observer of over 20 years

  3. The ASOS doesn’t work as well as Mr. Del Balzo thinks. It is safe to say that he has never been in a weather office and seen what a weather observer must do to make sure the ASOS sends out accurate weather observations.

    The sites where the controllers are supposed to augment the ASOS don’t bother doing it at all.

    Mr. Del Balzo seems more concerned that the FAA would have to spend money on contract weather observers than his consulting firm.

  4. current observations from an ATC operated ASOS illustrates that they either don’t know they’re not logged on and or they’re not even paying attention to their secondary duties that involve watching the weather. Otherwise they would know that they’ve been logged off after initially logging on 9 hours prior:

    KIAG 070153Z AUTO 19011KT 10SM OVC023 11/06 A3010 RMK AO2 SLP199 T01110061
    KIAG 070053Z AUTO 20015G20KT 10SM OVC026 12/05 A3011 RMK AO2 SLP205 T01170050
    KIAG 070017Z AUTO 21007KT 10SM BKN028 OVC034 12/04 A3011 RMK AO2 T01220039
    KIAG 062353Z AUTO 20008KT 10SM BKN035 OVC055 12/04 A3011 RMK AO2 SLP204 T01220039 10144 20117 56007
    KIAG 062253Z AUTO 18008KT 10SM FEW047 SCT120 12/03 A3012 RMK AO2 SLP207 T01220033
    KIAG 062153Z AUTO 18009KT 10SM OVC044 13/03 A3012 RMK AO2 SLP209 T01280028
    KIAG 062053Z AUTO 18010KT 10SM OVC042 14/04 A3013 RMK AO2 SLP212 T01390039 58015

    March 6th 2017 observations

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