Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

St. Simons Airport Switches to Automated Weather Reports

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

St. Simons Airport Switches to Automated Weather Reports

Article excerpt

ST. SIMONS ISLAND -- Human weather-watchers are being replaced by computers at St. Simons' Malcolm McKinnon Airport, the last of 17 airports around Georgia to get a new automated weather-monitoring system.

On Oct. 25, pilots at the airport will begin relying completely on the Automated Surface Observing System, a computerized set of sensors designed to observe temperature, dew point, visibility and precipitation.

The Federal Aviation Administration has installed ASOS equipment at 16 other Georgia airports. In addition, the FAA and National Weather Service have installed the system at some non-airport sites around the state.

FAA officials say the computerized system delivers weather reporting equal to or better than human observation. But Jack Caldwell, a weather observer at Malcolm McKinnon Airport, isn't convinced.

Caldwell insists human observers, who have worked at the airport since World War II, are simply better at certain things than a machine. While the automated system does an excellent job at tasks like recording wind speed and dew point, it is frequently incorrect when it comes to visibility and cloud height, he said.

"I would guess 15 to 20 percent of the time it is meaningfully or significantly misleading," he said.

Caldwell says an inaccurate reading could lead to serious consequences for pilots, passengers and people on the ground. "You could get in a world of hurt," he said.

Caldwell and three other part-time contract weather observers will lose their jobs once the automated system takes over. But he said safety -- not unemployment -- is fueling his concern.

Kathleen Bergen, a spokeswoman for the FAA in Atlanta, said FAA officials have heard few complaints from pilots since they began installing the ASOS system at airports around the country.

"The system has been in place for a number of years, and it works non-stop, 24 hours a day and provides information at the airport service level," she said. …

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