They're OK, After All
It turns out that weather radios
aren't the distraction the FAA once said they were. This week,
the agency flip-flopped on its earlier ban on weather radios in air
traffic control towers, and will allow controllers to monitor such
devices for reports of approaching severe weather after all.
"We took a second look, and we determined the weather radios
would not be a distraction," FAA spokeswoman Diane Spitaliere said
Thursday, reports the Orlando Sentinel. "We decided to allow them
in at the request of the controllers. They've expressed concern
that they would like that additional assurance."
Spitaliere stressed the FAA believes controllers already have
adequate weather information available... but controllers who were
caught in the tower at Daytona Beach International Airport last
December might disagree.
As ANN reported, six
controllers at DAB were caught unawares by an approaching tornado
December 25, which passed within 150 yards of the tower, because
weather radios were included in a blanket ban against all radios in
work areas. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association
(NATCA) alleged at the time controllers even guided a Comair
regional jet into the path of the approaching storm, because they
didn't know it was there.
Weather radar systems at DAB only show rain levels; they don't
show wind shear, or tornadic activity.
"These are people whose offices are 250 or more feet off the
ground surrounded by windows. If anyone should have a weather radio
to warn them of a tornado, it's these people," said NATCA spokesman
Doug Church, who called the reversal of the FAA's policy a
significant victory for safety.
"While we do not allow radios
in the operational areas because of the possibility of distraction
while delivering a safety service, these weather radios are not
typical radios," said FAA deputy administrator Bobby Sturgell.
"These weather radios will provide an additional level of assurance
for our controllers that they are receiving as much weather
information as required to meet their personal needs."
But the radios aren't in the tower at DAB or anywhere else just
yet. First, the agency must issue guidelines on which weather
radios are permitted. Each facility will then have to purchase its
own -- the FAA won't supply them.
NATCA's Daytona Beach representative, Kelly Raulerson, told the
Sentinel she expects the radios managers at DAB purchased in
January -- only to have to remove them days
later -- to be approved, though she added the radios
may be tested at other facilities first.
Hopefully, that'll be soon... as there are storms on the radar
heading for Florida as we speak...