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Senate amendment could benefit Alaska weather coverageSenate amendment could benefit Alaska weather coverage

Pilots flying in Alaska could conduct safer flights through enhanced access to weather reports under an amendment to the FAA reauthorization bill pending in the Senate.

The amendment submitted by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), which AOPA supported, directs the FAA to publish automated weather information in the National Airspace Data Interchange (NADIN) as long as the weather-observing equipment meets the same standard as the FAA’s own weather facilities. NADIN is the system that transmits Aviation Routine Weather Reports (METARs) and other information to user.

The amendment would require that data from modular automated weather stations, or MAWS, be disseminated on FAA systems, said Rune Duke, AOPA director of government affairs for airspace and air traffic.

“Alaska is a weather-data poor state despite having the greatest reliance on aviation. Adding nine modular automated weather stations to the FAA system would increase the surface observations available to pilots in Alaska by a total of seven percent; a very positive increase,” he said.

The observations, which MAWS produce every 30 minutes (the system does not report special weather observations), are not currently transmitted for distribution even though the non-FAA equipment meets or exceeds certification standards agreed upon by a group composed of FAA and NWS personnel in 2012, Duke said. 

One reason for MAWS’s exclusion has been a difference in maintenance regimes: NWS requires inspection of such equipment annually, while the FAA requires maintenance every 120 days. 

The wording of the amendment, which Sullivan offered after AOPA presented information on the issue, would require the FAA to use the NADIN system to publish weather data provided by FAA-approved NWS weather stations and “modular automated weather stations located in a noncontiguous State.”

In a March letter to the FAA and NWS, AOPA urged that the automation of weather observing sites in Alaska not be carried out “at the expense of availability of data for the aviation community. Many of the sites identified for termination of augmentation and backup are important to the limited network of weather available for pilots.” AOPA requested that the agencies “work together to ensure the hazards that this reduction in service will create are fully understood and addressed,” including review by a safety risk management panel.

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, Flight Planning

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