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Mon, Jan 22, 2007

FAA Yanks Weather Radios In Towers -- Again

NATCA Calls Policy "Absurd"

Weather radios brought in to the control tower at Daytona Beach (FL) International Airport by local FAA managers, two days after a Christmas Day tornado came dangerously close to the airport, have since been banned by the agency. Again.

The Orlando Sentinel reports the agency yanked the radios Friday... leaving controllers wondering just what, exactly, the agency thinks about their safety.

"So they don't want controllers to know there's a tornado outside the window?" asked Doug Church, national spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. "That's absurd."

As Aero-News reported, the controllers union slammed the FAA in December for banning the radios in the first place, saying the lack of suitable weather reporting equipment put controllers in danger... as well as those onboard a Comair regional jet they were directing to land in the vicinit of the F2 twister.

The Sentinel reports a local agency manager put two weather radios in the tower cab December 27, saying the policy banning all radios from work areas was not meant to prohibit weather radios... but the FAA reiterated last week that, yes, weather radios are banned as well, part of a blanket ban on all audio devices that could cause distractions to controllers on duty.

That doesn't make sense to several people who went through the tornado scare in Daytona Beach.

"Anything that provides a source of important information like weather should be made available to controllers," said Marvin Smith, founder of the air-traffic-management degree program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University -- which saw its Daytona Beach campus ripped to shreds by the twister. "I don't care if it is an Ouija board or carrier pigeons. You need to have vital information."

FAA spokeswoman Diane Spitaliere maintains controllers at Daytona Beach International Airport had all the information they needed.

"Controllers have a large amount of weather information available to them in the tower, so the weather radios are not really necessary," Spitaliere said. "They will continue to be banned from the facility."

The agency did acknowledge a regional weather facility in North Florida should have warned controllers of the tornado, but it did not. As for the weather radar system now in place in the Daytona Beach tower, it only shows rain levels... not wind shear activity, or other indicators of a tornadic storm.

Spitaliere said controllers are welcome to have a weather radio... in the break room. "It's not like these controllers are blocked off from the outside world," she said.

NATCA's Church says the issue is all about safety... not about listening to music on the job.

"There's no plausible reason to remove the only mechanism to know about severe weather," Church said.

NATCA representative Kelly Raulerson added the radios put in place after the twister sound only during tests and activations of the Emergency Alert System -- they aren't capable of playing music.

"It put our mind at ease," she said. "Now we're back to zero again."

FMI: www.faa.gov, www.natca.org

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