The government told the airline industry yesterday that 250 weather stations will be closed at night beginning Monday if there is no budget agreement between Congress and the administration. That would shut down all commercial airline service after 6 p.m. each day.
The National Weather Service, at a meeting with industry representatives and the Federal Aviation Administration, said budget cuts required under the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit-reduction law will force it to close all but its major national weather centers from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. This includes the offices that provide local weather information to pilots.
"It will be devastating," said Jack Ryan, an official with the Air Transport Association, who attended the meeting. "It will be worse than the FAA plan. You can't dispatch aircraft without a weather report."
The FAA had already told the airlines that air traffic controller furloughs will force it to slow the national airspace system, causing cancellation of about 6,000 aircraft operations nationwide every day. This would include about 3,000 of the 18,000 daily commercial airline flights.
The airlines agreed during the meeting yesterday to submit revised schedules to the FAA by noon Friday, detailing which flights would be canceled. The FAA and the airlines agreed that the schedule would be put in effect no sooner than 3 a.m. on Oct. 4.
That would mean that for three days, the FAA would order a slowdown in flights to only the number that could be handled safely by air traffic controllers. This would mean major delays and hundreds of cancellations on a case-by-case basis.
Ryan said the airlines will search for an alternative to mitigate the weather service cutbacks. A weather service spokesman could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, Sen. Wendell H. Ford (D-Ky.), chairman of the Senate aviation subcommittee, yesterday introduced long-awaited legislation reauthorizing the FAA, including a provision allowing local airports to levy "head taxes" called passenger facility charges.
However, under Ford's bill those charges could not go into effect until the government adopts a national aircraft noise policy and the aviation trust fund is spent down to less than $4 billion from its current $7.6 billion.
The Ford bill also includes a controversial provision that would abolish the rule in effect at four "high-density" airports, including Washington National, that limits arrivals and departures through a "slot" system.