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Wichita’s Mayor Appeals To FAA To Stop Airport Weather Plan

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Deborah Shaar
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Wichita’s mayor is trying to stop a Federal Aviation Administration plan that would transfer weather observations to air traffic controllers at Eisenhower National Airport.

Mayor Jeff Longwell issued a four-page letter to federal officials on Friday, including the head of the FAA and members of Kansas’ congressional delegation.

Longwell says the city has serious concerns with the FAA’s decision to eliminate the Contract Weather Observer program at Eisenhower, and its transfer of weather observations to the control tower.

He says the agency’s safety review panel on Thursday was devoted to analyzing the risks and hazards of the inevitable change, not to review whether the plan is valid.

"It seems like this is being dictated by the FAA without any local input," Longwell says. "We just simply want to have a voice and weigh in on [it] and share what we see happening on a daily basis. At least, [we want to] think that we’ve been heard. At this point, we don’t feel like we’ve even been heard to be able to sell our case on the value that these folks [the contract weather observers] bring to the table."

Longwell says requiring air traffic controllers to gather weather data is a poor option that could compromise safety.

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FAA Statement on the Safety Risk Management Panel held on February 4, 2016 in Wichita.

"They’re not going to spend the time physically getting out there like a weather observer, and too often they would be trying to use instruments to do the same task that we are using a weather observer," he says.

The current professionally trained and certified weather observers provide hourly updates on surface conditions to an automated computer system that feeds weather data to the airport and the National Weather Service office.

Longwell says canceling this program would have potential effects on flight safety and would have a negative economic impact to aircraft operators, the airport and the community.

A statement from the FAA says the agency is evaluating the airport’s unique circumstances and will identify any issues that would require further attention.

For more information:

http://kmuw.org/post/faa-holds-private-meeting-wichita-airport-weather-observations

http://kmuw.org/post/faa-plan-shift-weather-observations-wichita-airport-raises-safety-concerns

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Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar

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