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US Senate Approves Mandate To Keep Contract Weather Observer Program

Control tower and old terminal viewed from the new terminal's construction site.

The Contract Weather Observer Program at Wichita’s Eisenhower National Airport will continue, at least through the fiscal year 2017.  

The U.S. Senate approved legislation Tuesday that includes a mandate to prevent the Federal Aviation Administration from terminating the program at 57 airports, including Eisenhower.

The FAA launched a plan about a year ago to eliminate the Contract Weather Observer program at those targeted airports, and move to a system where air traffic controllers would monitor the weather and rely on information from automated sensors.

The weather observers make precise judgments about current conditions at Eisenhower.

The airport and the local National Weather Service office use the weather observers’ real-time data to formulate forecasts for pilots, the airport and the public.

Wichita city leaders, aviation industry representatives and members of Kansas’ congressional delegation are opposed to the FAA plan, and say canceling the program could create a safety issue.

U.S. Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas co-sponsored the mandate.

"What that legislation now says is that the FAA is prohibited from altering the current program they have in place for about the next year and a half or so," Moran says. "So again, we have told the FAA they can’t do something we didn’t think they should do in the first place."

The mandate also requires the FAA to issue a report on the process of its safety review on the risks and hazardous effects that could result from the loss of the Contract Weather Observer services at airports.

The FAA mandate comes in the form of an amendment attached to the Federal Aviation Reauthorization Act of 2016 which reauthorizes the Federal Aviation Administration and related programs through the end of the fiscal year 2017.

The legislation approved by the Senate now goes to the House for debate.


Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar.

To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.


Deborah joined the news team at KMUW in September 2014 as a news reporter. She spent more than a dozen years working in news at both public and commercial radio and television stations in Ohio, West Virginia and Detroit, Michigan. Before relocating to Wichita in 2013, Deborah taught news and broadcasting classes at Tarrant County College in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area.