CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Yeager Airport's six-person contract weather observer station is among 109 similar operations nationwide apparently being considered for closure by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The station, housed in the general aviation terminal at Yeager, is the only one of its kind operating in West Virginia. Its staff of certified meteorological technicians produces hourly weather reports used by air traffic controllers, and provides climate data for the National Weather Service's Charleston Forecast Office and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"My understanding is that the FAA is saying the closure of operations like ours is part of a cost-cutting contingency plan being considered regardless of the sequester," said Brian Broussard, supervisor of Charleston's contract weather observer station.
"If this were to happen, it would create a reduction to the overall safety of air service and also a represent a degradation in the climate data that the National Weather Service uses in many of the products they are responsible for, including the Terminal Area Forecast."
The Terminal Area Forecast is the official forecast for pilots who use airports in the FAA system.
Broussard said the FAA plan calls for converting contract weather observation stations like the one at Yeager into Limited Aviation Weather Reporting Stations that rely on automated equipment monitored by air traffic controllers. The six-person weather observer crew at Yeager, and their colleagues at 108 other U.S. airports, would be furloughed.
Weather reports generated by the airport's Automated Surface Observing System often require editing and augmenting by trained observers, according to Broussard.
"For instance, at Yeager, it only takes a small amount of fog for the sensors to interpret it as severe fog, which could needlessly and erroneously cause the system to report airport-closing conditions," he said. The system also doesn't differentiate between different types of precipitation, including drizzle, freezing rain, sleet and snow.