January 12, 2009
By Thomas A. Horne
The Center Weather Service Forecasting Units (CWSUs) located at the nation’s Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCCs) will be no more, if the FAA has its way. In a budget-cutting move, the FAA has proposed firing 39 CWSU meteorologists, closing the CWSU stations at the ARTCCs, and consolidating ATC en route weather advisory positions at two new sites—one in Kansas City, the other at National Center for Environmental Prediction offices in suburban Washington, D.C.
CWSUs, established in 1978 as a result of NTSB recommendations following the crash of a Southern Airways DC-9 on April 4, 1977, serves as a vital means of communicating late-breaking weather warnings and advisories to pilots. CWSU meteorologists with local weather expertise, who are co-located in each ARTCC, are able to quickly relay information about adverse weather to controllers, who in turn advise pilots whose routes may take them near danger. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) wrote the FAA a letter in April 2007 in which he opposed consolidation plans, saying the committee “has great concerns over the safety and wisdom of removing meteorologists from the ARTCCs.”
The most recent versions of the plan presented to the National Weather Service Employees Organization indicate that a test of the prototype consolidation will begin in late 2009. If the proposal goes through, plans are to close the CWSUs in 2011.
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne has worked at AOPA since the early 1980s. He began flying in 1975 and has an airline transport pilot and flight instructor certificates. He’s flown everything from ultralights to Gulfstreams and ferried numerous piston airplanes across the Atlantic.
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