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Augmented weather program at risk in Alaska, Hawaii, and GuamAugmented weather program at risk in Alaska, Hawaii, and Guam

The proposed transfer from the National Weather Service to the FAA of a program that augments automated weather reporting at 11 Alaska and three Pacific locations with information from human observers could reduce critical safety information available to users, AOPA said.

The National Weather Service has called for comments from the public by March 6 on the proposed transfer of responsibility for augmenting and backing up Automated Surface Observing Systems (ASOS) in Alaska and Pacific Regions from the National Weather Service to the FAA.

AOPA had requested that the deadline for comments be extended from a prior deadline in late February, and has expressed concern about the proposed changes to the Alaskan FAA Regional Administrator. AOPA also has discussed the impending reduction in services with other stakeholders including the Alaska Air Carriers Association, the Alaska Airmen Association, and Alaska Airlines.

If the changes are implemented, the National Weather Service would no longer provide a human backup or weather augmentation service at its remaining 14 locations in Alaska, Hawaii, and Guam. The National Weather Service discontinued its other weather-augmentation programs in the continental United States in 2002.

The FAA, which took over general responsibility for the surface observation program in 2014, would then have responsibility for all U.S. observing stations. 

AOPA also has expressed concern that at least four locations at Annette Island, Kodiak, Saint Paul, and Yakutat could lose all human weather augmentation service as a result of the transfer, if the FAA doesn’t provide additional resources, said Rune Duke, AOPA director of airspace and air traffic.

“The human weather observer ensures missing or erroneous fields of a weather observation are accurately reported, which can be very important at airports that have localized weather phenomena due to a unique location, for example near mountains or adjacent to the ocean,” he said. “Automated systems do not always capture localized phenomena adequately.”

AOPA questions whether the voluntary Non-Federal Weather Observation (NF-OBS) Program, which was referred to in the notice of the transfer as a service provider, would mitigate the impact of the transfer, Duke said. The program allows fixed-base operators, airports, state and local governments, private businesses, and others to provide resources to maintain the augmentation service.

A lack of full-time airport staff at many of those locations could limit its effectiveness, or make costs prohibitive.

The Alaska weather stations that could be affected by the transfer include Annette Island, Barrow, Bethel, Cold Bay, King Salmon, Kodiak, Kotzebue, McGrath, Nome, Saint Paul, and Yakutat. In the Pacific, they include Hilo and Lihue in Hawaii, and Guam.

“Reliable and accurate weather observations are critical in Alaska where many communities rely on aviation for everything from food to medical transportation,” Duke said. “The human augmentation service has been very important to ensuring locations with unique weather that may not be accurately captured by the automated system does get correctly communicated to pilots. We are looking very closely at what these changes mean for the local aviation community.”

Comments on the program transfer should be submitted by March 6 to Michael L. Graf, National Weather Service Meteorologist/International Liaison, Silver Spring, MD 20910 by email or phone 301/427-9109.

Please share your comments with AOPA.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Advocacy, Pilot Weather Briefing Services, Weather

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