Alaska weather stations offer critical safety info

March 15, 2011

AOPA is urging the National Weather Service and the FAA to seek solutions in cooperation with users before shutting down critical Alaska weather-reporting stations.

Members responding to a Jan. 6 request for user input about their use of the Big River Lakes (PALV) and Hayes River (PAHZ) stations underscored the critical importance of the facilities to safety of flight in areas of Alaska that depend almost exclusively on general aviation. The two contract weather stations provided observations for the east side of Lake Clark, Merrill, and Rainy Passes, but have been discontinued.

The expertise of those local pilots was key as AOPA communicated the importance of the weather stations to the National Weather Service Alaska Region’s director, said Heidi Williams, AOPA senior director of airspace and modernization.

“Some members indicated that they monitor these stations frequently to determine if weather conditions will allow them to depart,” Williams wrote in a March 14 letter to the National Weather Service. “Without reports from these areas, pilots are forced to ‘go take a look,’ which is a safety concern. We strongly encourage both agencies to find a solution to providing weather for these locations.”

Williams cited preliminary results from an FAA study of recent aircraft accidents in Alaska indicating that flight from visual to instrument meteorological conditions “is the cause of about 20 percent of the serious aviation accidents. Almost 80 percent of these accidents involve one or more fatalities. At a time when the FAA is focused on reducing the accident rate, it is critically important to maintain important tools for pilots that enable them to evaluate current weather conditions and make an informed go/no-go decision.”

AOPA is committed to working with the agencies to find ways to augment the weather reporting network in Alaska, Williams wrote. Collaboration with the user community should be integral to the process as the National Weather Service studies possible further reductions to Alaska’s sparse weather station network.

“Such a process needs to be transparent and involve engagement with the pilot community who utilize these services,” she wrote.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.