Air Traffic Services Brief -- National Weather Service Duties Act of 2005 -- Santorum Bill S. 786

Air Traffic Services Brief

National Weather Service Duties Act of 2005 - Santorum Bill S. 786

The Issue

On April 14, 2005, Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) introduced the National Weather Service Duties Act of 2005 to the 109th Congress to limit the duties and responsibilities of the National Weather Service (NWS). If enacted, this legislation prohibits the NWS from providing weather products and services that are or could be provided by the private sector. The bill appears to be an effort by the commercial weather vendors to remove NWS as a "competitor" in the production of weather products. This legislation could result in the NWS no longer being permitted to provide the aviation weather products used by pilots, the DUAT system, and the flight service station system. Instead, the FAA would have to purchase these products from private companies.

The Importance to Our Members

The federal and private sectors both have important roles in the provision of weather products. While the private sector provides a valuable service by marketing enhanced products to select users for a fee, it is essential that the National Airspace System (NAS) users continue to receive government-provided weather products. Much like aeronautical charting, weather is a critical safety item that has a direct impact on the safety, capacity, and efficiency of the NAS. For these reasons, the federal government must continue to provide weather products needed by federal users as well as those needed by industry users. This is especially true for uses such as general aviation, which may not be sustainable by private markets and require central coordination. Further, the federal government pays for and produces the weather data used by the private weather companies to develop its products. NWS provides the information to these companies at no charge. If the legislation were enacted, it is feasible that the federal government would be forced to purchase the aviation weather products, used by pilots, air traffic controllers, and the military, from the private companies, essentially "paying" for the data twice.

Based on the current bill language, the following National Weather Service products have the potential to be impacted:

  • METARs
  • TAFs
  • PIREPs
  • AIRMETs and SIGMETs
  • All Satellite and Radar Charts
  • Graphical Wind and Temperature Charts
  • National Convective Weather Forecast
  • Current Icing Potential
  • All Analysis and Prog Charts

While aviation products, including the popular Aviation Digital Data Service (ADDS) Web site, have been protected from the "non-compete" policy in the past, this legislation has the potential to impact information that NWS makes available via the Web, including innovative aviation weather products on the ADDS Web site.

Background

Since 1991, the NWS has operated under the 1991 Public-Private Partnership Policy that contains the statement, "The NWS will not compete with the private sector when a service is currently provided or can be provided by commercial enterprises, unless otherwise directed by applicable law." Santorum's proposed legislation uses language very similar to the statement quoted above from the 1991 NWS Public-Private Partnership Policy.

In response to ongoing controversy regarding the relationship between NWS and the private sector, in the summer of 2000 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) commissioned a study by the National Academy of Science's National Research Council (NRC) of appropriate roles of government, private sector, and academia in weather and climate services. The study concluded with publication of its report, " Fair Weather: Effective Partnerships in Weather and Climate Services," (National Academy Press, 2003) The first recommendation from the report states:

Recommendation 1. The NWS should replace its 1991 public-private partnership policy with a policy that defines processes for making decisions on products, technologies, and services, rather than rigidly defining the roles of the NWS and the private sector.

NOAA has now followed through on Recommendation 1 of the report by issuing, on December 1, 2004, the NOAA Policy on Partnerships in the Provision of Environmental Information. This policy is founded on the NRC recommendations and on applicable federal government law and policy. According to the revised policy, "NOAA recognizes the public interest is served by the ability of private sector entities and the academic and research community to provide diverse services to meet the varied needs of specific individuals, organizations, and economic entities. The nation benefits from government information disseminated both by Federal agencies and by diverse nonfederal parties, including commercial and not-for-profit entities. NOAA will give due consideration to these abilities, and consider the effects of its decisions on the activities of these entities, in accordance with its responsibilities as an agency of the U.S. Government, to serve the public interest and advance the nation's environmental information enterprise as a whole."

AOPA's Position

This bill appears to be an effort by the commercial weather vendors to remove NOAA as a "competitor" in the production of weather products. With this legislation in place, there is the potential that NWS will no longer be permitted to produce aviation weather products for the flying public. The federal government and pilots would be forced to purchase aviation weather products from private companies, which would directly impact the safety and efficiency of the NAS. AOPA opposes the legislation as written based on the following:

  • Aviation weather products are important to NAS safety: Weather is directly related to 40 percent of all aviation accidents.
  • Aviation weather products are important to NAS capacity and efficiency: 65 percent of ATC system delays are caused by weather.
  • In addition to the aviation public, aviation weather products are required to support FAA operations: Controllers need weather information to make operational decisions (e.g., runway selection, instituting a ground hold program).
  • All aviation users should have access to basic weather products at no fee.
  • Fees for service would discourage general aviation pilots from accessing critical aviation weather information.

Status

AOPA is developing comments in opposition of the Santorum bill language. The bill was introduced to the Senate on April 14, 2005, and was referred to the committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.


Posted Thursday, April 28, 2005 10:08:00 AM