W.Va. airport gear hit turbulance

April 29, 1997


Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A new weather tracking system for airplane pilots is slow to report conditions and misses some altogether, according to the manager of the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport, which has one of the machines.

The Federal Aviation Administration purchased the Automated Surface Observing System for airports in the hope it would be cheaper than employing weather observers, officials said. About seven people work as weather observers at the airport, which is off U.S. 11 south of Martinsburg.

But there have been several problems with the system, said airport Manager Bill Walkup.

The system that was installed at the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport about a year ago cannot detect thunderstorms and ice storms, two of the most dangerous types of weather a pilot can face, Walkup said.


During an ice storm in February, there were instances in which the apparatus either did not detect precipitation or was up to an hour late in recording it, Walkup said.

"There are a lot of flaws. It creates a serious situation," said Walkup.

Walkup said the weather observers are still the primary source of forecast information at the airport. The automated system is in operation at the airport, but the observers are "basically babysitting it," said Walkup.

Because of complaints about the system, U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., recently requested that human weather observers not be removed from airports until the FAA can assure that the new equipment is working correctly.

At an April 16 aviation safety hearing, Byrd received assurances from the FAA that the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport and three other airports in the state will continue to employ weather observers until officials can prove the system is safe, according to Byrd's office.

The weather conditions collected by observers at the airport is fed into a central system that offers forecasts to pilots across the country, officials said.

The weather system uses an infrared beam that runs between two points. The system determines what kind of precipitation is falling based in how quickly it falls through the infrared beam, officials said.

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