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Future of weather observers at MacArthur Airport uncertain

Long Island MacArthur Airport on Dec. 12, 2011.

Long Island MacArthur Airport on Dec. 12, 2011. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

An internal safety review meeting to evaluate the potential transfer of weather reporting duties from on-the-ground meteorologist observers to Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers at Long Island MacArthur Airport has been scheduled for next week at the airport’s control tower.

The airport is one of 57 sites using contract weather observers who are being evaluated for such a transition of duties, an FAA spokeswoman said. Other New York airports on the list were in Rochester, Syracuse and Albany. Controllers “already provide critical weather reporting services at more than 390 airports,” she said in a statement.

Stakeholders such as airports, carriers and pilots are being invited to participate in the Jan. 12 review.

Still, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), vice chairman of the House subcommittee on aviation, said in a statement that he supports keeping weather observers on the job.

“MacArthur Airport’s office serves an important role, not just in aviation safety for Long Island pilots and passengers, but for our entire region’s ability to be prepared for dangerous weather events,” Zeldin said.

In November he came out against the proposal, saying that the plan calls on controllers, who “already have enough on their plate ensuring our safety in the air,” to oversee the automated weather monitoring system. “We should leave weather observation to the professionals who are experts in meteorology.”

Eight observers, who are all meteorologists — two of them full time, two part time and four relief workers — are assigned to MacArthur by Florida-based IBEX Group Inc., said Hank Berg, supervisor of contract weather observers at MacArthur. Their jobs would be eliminated under the new approach.

Assigning the duties to controllers, whose “primary duty is to guide aircraft,” could lead to the “degradation” of the quality of weather observations, Berg said.

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