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Kansas Congressmen Oppose Weather Monitoring Change At ICT

Three Kansas Congressmen are joining forces to prevent a Federal Aviation Administration plan from going into effect at Wichita’s Eisenhower airport.

They strongly oppose the move to have air traffic controllers take on weather monitoring duties.

U.S. Senators Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts, along with 4th District Rep. Mike Pompeo, say a comprehensive safety review needs to be done before any changes are made at Eisenhower.

The FAA wants to reduce overall costs by eliminating professionally trained weather observers and moving to a system that relies on data from an automated weather sensor.

Air traffic controllers would be responsible for the weather monitoring. The weather observers are contracted through the FAA to provide critical weather reports for the airport and the local National Weather Service Office. They augment and provide back-up for an automated sensor that collects weather data.

The congressmen say the Wichita area experiences significant weather events year-round that require accurate, expert-based reporting on conditions that existing automated sensors and equipment alone are often unable to provide.

The congressional delegation says the FAA made the decision without sufficient consideration of safety and operational impacts, and without local stakeholder input.

In a letter to federal officials, the lawmakers say the agency has failed to show how eliminating the Contract Weather Observer (CWO) program will not present safety risks and degradations in service at Wichita’s airport.

The congressmen from Kansas have support from the chairwoman and the ranking Democrat on the Aviation Appropriations Subcommittee, a Transportation Department Subcommittee.

Senators Susan Collins and Jack Reed recently sent a letter to the Department of Transportation and the FAA urging the agencies to stop the elimination of the Contract Weather Observer program. They too are calling for a new in-depth safety analysis that includes local stakeholder input and public comment before the FAA makes any changes at Eisenhower and the 56 other designated airports.

Credit Department of Transportation
Among the highlights in the U.S. Department of Transportation's FY 2017 budget is a proposal to cut the Contract Weather Observer and other programs to offset a requested $10 billion in funding for other operations.

Collins and Reed say sufficient safety assessments have not been done because the FAA did not follow its own guidelines at Safety Risk Management panels.

The FAA’s top administrator testified at a U.S. House budget hearing last week that no decision has been made on eliminating the Contract Weather Observer program. However, the cost savings from ending that program at Eisenhower and 56 other mid-size airports are factored into the FAA’s pending budget request for Fiscal Year 2017.


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.