Union: Just a few job cuts will harm Chicago air traffic

A decision by the National Weather Service to cut three aviation meteorologist positions that provide forecasts and alerts for Chicago’s two major airports will increase air traffic delays, according to the union that represents NWS employees.

According to the National Weather Service Employees Organization, aviation meteorologists at the Chicago Area Forecast Office in Romeoville, Ill., have been credited for halving half the number of weather-related air traffic delays at Midway and O’Hare airports since the 2010 launch in Chicago of the “Golden Triangle Initiative.” Chicago, New York City and Atlanta—the three corners of the so-called triangle—were chosen for the aviation weather forecasting initiative because they contain hub airports where weather delays can have nationwide implications, NWSEO noted.

NWSEO said initial forecasting statistics since the elimination of the program in late January show the accuracy of ceiling and visibility forecasts has already fallen 20 percent and the “false alarm rate”—predicting something that does not occur—has risen 22 percent.

“By abolishing this essential initiative, the National Weather Service is regressing in its service to the traveling public and flight safety,” said NWSEO President Dan Sobien. “The cost savings and improved travel times, directly related to aviation forecasters at these airports is well documented.”

The labor group said that because of understaffing, NWS is doubling up on duties or eliminating key projects such as the Golden Triangle. Because of this, NWSEO said, the three Chicago aviation forecaster positions will be shifted from the airports and FAA, and used to fill two slots that focus instead on weather forecasting duties for the Chicago area.

“The degradation of service for the cost of two employees is insane, particularly in light of the huge successes of the Golden Triangle Initiative so far,” said Gino Izzi, the NWSEO steward in the NWS Chicago/Romeoville Weather Forecast Office.

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