Air traffic controllers Tahoe position in limbo |

Air traffic controllers Tahoe position in limbo

Michael Schneider

The short-term future of air traffic controllers in the Lake Tahoe Airport’s control tower hinges on a Federal Aviation Administration administrative decision.

William Shumann, FAA spokesperson, said the administration expects a decision soon, possibly within a month, regarding the Automated Surface Observation System’s moratorium.

The system would read surface weather conditions around the airport and relay them to air traffic controllers at another airport who would relay them to pilots flying into Lake Tahoe.

Pilots can also directly dial the ASOS to hear current conditions, according to Janis Brand, airport assistant manager. She said one problem with the ASOS is transmissions tend to bleed over into other radio talk, making it difficult to hear reports.

Brand said the National Weather Service supports the ASOS but would like to have a human weather observer confirming the computer readings.

Weather service officials in Reno refused to comment on the ASOS.

Currently the weather observation functions are performed by a manual observer funded by the FAA. The city is contributing funds to this position so the weather observer can also serve as an air traffic controller.

The problem with the ASOS, according to Shumann, is whether it reads weather reliably.

Shumann said a top FAA administrator is currently determining the reliability of the ASOS.

Although the FAA has agreed to continue funding for manual weather observations through Sept. 30, that decision is conditional upon the ASOS moratorium remaining intact.

Shumann said that if the administrator finds the ASOS a reliable surface weather-reading device, then installation of the system will resume and the tower will lose its human presence, unless the city chooses to fund it, once the ASOS is in place.

Brand said she wouldn’t mind if the problems with the ASOS continued through September. She said that partial congressional funding for smaller airport’s control towers, like the Lake Tahoe Airport, will become available around September.

According to Rep. John Doolittle’s office, the partial funding has been approved, but the FAA has not ironed out the conditions under which airports can qualify.

The Lake Tahoe Airport, which has been without a commercial airline for more than two years, does not meet the FAA’s cost-benefit threshold for a federally funded control tower.

Because of Tahoe’s mountainous terrain and changeable weather conditions, various senators and congressional representatives lobbied for, and received, an extension for federal tower funding though this month. The FAA had planned to cut funding in March 1998.

Despite continuing efforts, the airport has yet to find a commercial airline interested in serving South Shore to improve its FAA cost-benefit rating.

City Manager Kerry Miller has said the city’s general fund is not an option regarding tower funding and the airport’s passenger facility account is lacking funds due to the lack of airport passengers.

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