The weather at Yeager Airport is unpredictable at best. That’s why the six employees at the airport’s Weather Observer Station are battling to save their jobs.
As part of the federal sequestration budget issues, the Yeager WOS was set to close earlier this month, along with 108 others across the country. But when the FAA tried a test run, at a Texas airport, it was pandemonium, that’s why the closures were delayed until the start of the federal fiscal year on October 1.
Brian Broussard, the supervisor of the WOS at Yeager, calls it a stay of execution for he and his fellow workers who monitor weather conditions at the airport to help air traffic controllers safely land planes.
“As of now, all of the observers are on duty. We’re still preparing and reporting quality weather observations to the air traffic controllers on duty,” Broussard said.
Under the sequester, the observatory stations were set to close and a computer system would have taken over the jobs. Broussard says there’s just one problem, a computer cannot provide the kind of information that a trained weather observer can.
“We need to literally go outside and make a judgment and reading of sky conditions to determine if it is safe for people to fly just on visual rules or should we stop them from flying,” according to Broussard.
He says the computer system that would replace the observers has a very limited scope when it comes to detecting sudden weather changes. He says human observers can report a 360-degree view of conditions. That’s especially important at Yeager where fog often rolls in very quickly, storms pop up and rain can turn to snow in a matter of seconds.
“For a little while you might have a pretty sky and you can see for a little bit,” Broussard said. “Then a down pour starts within a few minutes and you can’t see anything.”
The FAA has put off making a decision on computerizing the Weather Observer Stations until a new budget is in place this fall. But many observers say saving some dollars by laying off trained weather observers and replacing them with computers is not worth the risk.