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.”
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.
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.
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
- the number of safety inspectors, who surveil the airlines,
- the staff assigned to assess the safety of aircraft designs,
- the team of international representatives who promote US aviation interests around the globe,
- the contract towers needed for local small airports,
- the persons devoted to responding to the constant flow of demanding letters from Congress,
- 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.