FAA Bans Weather Radio from Air Traffic Control Tower

From the "Orlando Sentinel" January 20, 2007
FAA: No weather radios in tower
Air-traffic controllers say the ban is a dangerous move for Daytona and elsewhere.

Three weeks ago, Daytona Beach air-traffic controllers got something to allay their fear of being trapped again in the path of a tornado without warning: weather-alert radios.

On Friday, the Federal Aviation Administration banned them.

The move puts controllers in the same place they were on Christmas Day. Controllers had no warning of a 120 mph twister roaring across a nearby runway and dangerously close to a passenger jet they were directing to land, a controllers-union representative said.


On one hand, I can see their concern and it seems like a silly rule to implement - but don't air traffic controllers already have to keep a close eye on the weather to begin with? I always thought that they had to monitor storms and weather pretty meticulously anyway, with weather radar displays and access to data. I'm surprised that a tornado would have caught them off guard, even more so the fact that they were still landing planes with a supercell passing over the airport. It just doesn't seem like a weather radio is going to give them much more info than they already have. Since I started using ThreatNet, I haven't needed to use NWR at all during a chase.
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Are you ****ing kidding me? For real? They "had no warning"?? Then obviously neither did the pilots in the air, right?

I'm never flying again.

I say that facetiously, but geez, I dunno....
I got a kick out of the irony in this statement...

"So they don't want controllers to know there's a tornado outside the window?" asked Doug Church, national spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. "That's absurd."

I mean seriously, if the controllers need a weather radio to know there is a tornado outside the window, I know for sure I will NEVER fly again. They have more problems than just not having a wx radio.
I think that's just a little exaggeration. If you expect controllers to 1) have access to NEXRAD and 2) interpret it with little or no meteorology background -- you are expecting way too much... I'd invite you to read the forums here during storm season as even people familiar with doppler radar still misinterpret 88D output all the time.

To expect these guys to land planes, do a mesoscale analysis, find access to NEXRAD data and issue their own warnings is asking a bit much. I'd say let the NWS do that, and use NOAA Weather Radio to get the information quickly to ATC.
Ok, after looking at Google earth it is (semi)safe to say a few things about KDAB.

1.) it is not terrible large and has as many gates as my local airport (KXNA) with more runways, thus it is possible the tower was not able to have access to all the equipment that would be at the fingertips of the guys in, oh say KDFW (Dallas-Ft. Worth).
2.) The tower has a very good line of sight over ALL the airport. The only obstruction it could have is the Supper Speedway's grandstands and back straight stands to the towers NW.
3.) With Orlando Int so close, such few gates, and only one 737 commercial jetliner on the field, I am assuming that it is not a very active airport, but i am just looking at it on Google Earth.

Also, according to the Dept of Labor one of the persons that are present in a tower at a field is the radar controller, who is the senior team member, observes the planes in the team’s airspace on radar and communicates with the pilots when necessary. Radar controllers warn pilots about nearby planes, bad weather conditions, and other potential hazards. Two planes on a collision course will be directed around each other. If a pilot wants to change altitude in search of better flying conditions, the controller will check to determine that no other planes will be along the proposed path. As the flight progresses, the team responsible for the aircraft notifies the next team in charge of the airspace ahead. Through team coordination, the plane arrives safely at its destination.

According to howstufworks.com, the tower at the airport should have not been in control at that point or at least alerted by the ATCSCC. The ATCSCC is the Air Traffic Control System Command Center (ATCSCC) - The ATCSCC oversees all air traffic control. It also manages air traffic control within centers where there are problems (bad weather, traffic overloads, inoperative runways). They are on the top of the chain of command, followed by the Air route traffic control centers (ARTCC), then the Terminal radar approach control - TRACON and then the, Air traffic control tower (ATCT).

The following image shows the air space that each level of control is in charge of.

Thus, there is no reason that a situation like what almost happened at Daytona's airport should have even come close to happening. Sure, the guys don't have PHDs in Meteorology, but I would hope to god the ones who are keeping an eye on the weather in the control rooms know enough to spot a potentially dangerous t-storm, let alone a supper cell. If that is not the case, then I too will cease flying.

btw, if anyone would like to listen onto a live feed of the tower's inbound and outbound flights, here you go... http://audio.liveatc.net:8012/kdab.m3u
NWR in Control Towers

Ok guys and gals... Here is my $0.02 in the matter...

As I was studying to become a pilot, yet I was unable to complete the program, this is what I know of the whole thing.

The weather reports come from Air Traffic Control, which is where that cool US map w/ the regions comes into play. They're the ones that study and report the weather, and redirect commercial flights en-route.

Most major airports have a Weather Service frequency that pilots are supposed to tune into and get the latest weather updates. However it is our equivalent to NOAA Weather Radio. It'll say the current conditions (thunderstorm, rain, fog, snow, etc), wind speed and direction, perhaps if the runways are only open for IFR (Instrument Flight Rules, where you trust the instruments in the plane to get you to the runway while you can't see a damn thing out the window), etc. It isn't necessarily real-time. In fact, at the end of each broadcast, they have a time identifier code, such as Zulu or Bravo, that changes every hour. So when a pilot contacts the tower or ATC, they say the latest code to tell the controller that they listened to the most recient report. I doubt it would say "There's a tornado on runway 2-9, don't land here idiots!"... and if it was an High-precip supercell, even the guys in the tower may not have a clue.

While I haven't checked yet, I'm sure the AOPA will be getting involved in this, that is if the controller's or their union or whatever speaks up. They lobby for pilots and aviation people to get stuff done, such as ending stupid laws that prohibit NWR in towers.

Personally, I think they should have at least one NWR w/ SAME alert on to help protect them. Just think if the tower was hit and people died, it would be all over the news and I'm sure every airport would have a weather radio in it. Now the FAA probably thinks that this would be a distraction to the controller's already hecktic job. They've been under fire lately for their own problems, which include that fatal regional jet crash in Kentucky, where only one tower controller was on duty (2 min is the FAA rule, but then they broke their own rule and made only one work that morning for some reason).

Anyway, this wouldn't stop me from flying. I love to fly and hopefully soon will be getting my license. Major airliners have radar built-in and some smaller planes. But like anything else, your features may vary and while it may show a little more detail than what you see on TV, I doubt it would show a clear hook echo, or even if the pilots would know what to look for.

A lot of things should have happened differently. No, the aircraft on approach should NOT have been coming in to land. I'm not sure what type of craft it was as I didn't see the whole story, but ATC or tower should of redirected them elsewhere. Tower probably thought it was just a heavy rainstorm and they were landing via instruments. FAA needs to look into this situation in more depth to realize that hey, some places actually need weather radios. And perhaps a basic storm spotter class for the tower controllers would help too.

Oh well, that's just my take on the deal...:cool:

Good hunting this season!
Joe / MO7374 (STL)

Very interesting view of the question. I was just reading in another site the opinion of an air traffic controller on this matter. Here is:

As a controller, I can assure you that there is no more to this story than what has been printed. The FAA has stated that DAB has all the WX equipment that they need. DAB has LLWAS (Low Level Wind Shear Alert System)and the ASR-9 radar system which provide 6 levels of precipitation--that's it. They have no radios (AM/FM) in the building in which to listen to on breaks they have a TV but two things here: 1. The TV is on a satellite system--what happens with a satellite when the clouds are too thick or it rains too hard? You lose the signal. 2. The facility lost all power and radios in the TRACON (radar room) when the tornado approached the airport. So how does the FAA expect the workforce to know about an approaching tornado? The radio purchased by the workforce was a simple $19 model and it would only alarm when a warning was out for the programmed in area, the rest of the time it sat silently collecting dust on a console in the back of the tower or by the superviosr's desk in the radar room. Now I ask how is this a distraction? The alarm--if it would to go off--would be no more of a distraction than any other FAA alarm system, all of which are designed for one purpose which is something bad might happen and it deserves your attention now. Now ask yourself is your life worth $19? is a loved one's life worth $19? if it is write your congressman or senator now because in the future your life might depend on the controller knowing all the information that might effect your flight. What would you like to have in the tower, total silence or an alarm warning the controllers of a problem?
Ok, well that makes a little more sense as to what happened, however, shouldn't the loss of communication with the TRACON prompted the tower to divert their inbound flights to another airport? Also shouldn't the ARTCC have prevented the plan from even putting its self in the line of this cell, before it entered the TRACON airspace? I know i am not an expert on the subject and have a very basic understanding of how air traffic control works, but could this have been a failure on the behalf of the ARTCC's behalf? I do now sympathize with the ATCT and after reading Alexandre's post agree that a NOAA radio wouldn't be a bad addition to the tower.
As you become familiar with severe weather - you'll realize that many tornadoes do not come from something that shows to be tornadic on a typical airplane radar.
so? pilots still generally avoid high reflectivity returns, tornado or not. Especially while landing, the most vulnerable period of flight.
If they think there's a chance they'll get in before the storm hits - they'll do it. If they know there's a tornado in that storm, they will be MUCH more likely to avoid the attempt.
A tornado warning is not a standard aviation weather product, and the FAA restricts what wx data aircraft operations are legally allowed to use(pilots and ATCers normally arent supposed to think). I would have been far more surprised if the FAA let these guys keep the radio. Im not saying I agree with that attitude, but thats what it is. Its not as bad as it sounds though... airliners fly in and near thunderstorms pretty often and incidents/accidents are few and far between.
Even if it comes to evacuating the tower -- why would you purposely restrict your employees from getting a warning? Sort of like saying everyone needs to take shelter from an approaching tornado, except for FAA controllers. Imagine what would come about if they got hit by a tornado and were unable to know about the warning because of a lack of NWR...
Are you serious? You are telling me that controllers are not allowed to abandon a building even as a tornado approaches? This story gets more interesting by the minute ;> I'd LOVE to do a story on that if true - do you have a source for this? It just seems a little hard to believe that the FAA would require people in a building with a lot of glass to stay at their post as a tornado strikes it. That's SCREAMING for lawsuit and bad press...

- Rob

PS I'm not sure who told you a control tower can survive a tornado strike - but they were wrong.
This is florida we are talking about. Tornados capable of killing towers have to be exceedingly rare. Towers are generally steel/concrete and that glass is thick.

And having daytona approach, departure, tower and ground suddenly go off the air because of a tornado warning for half of the county... and then a riddle cessna smacks into a 767 with 200 pax putting into orlando... now THAT would be the mother of all lawsuits and bad press.
I've been watching this with some interest. Especially the last few exchanges. I suspect it should be noted, that the FAA or any other agency (possible exception, the military) would allow for evacuation of an Airport Tower. I don't know this for sure, but I would suspect it's a very good possibility.

A Tornado on the airfield of a large metro airport COULD go un-noticed by the persons in the tower. Limited visibility being a key factor. Air Surveillance Radar doesn't necessarily equate to Weather Surveillance Radar. So given a rain wrapped tornado and plenty of Air Trafic to steer around a thunderstorm, I can see where they wouldn't see something like this.

It also seems to me that most of the Real ATC are already deep inside a pretty sturdy structure. There are generally no windows and no outside sources of distraction. These would be the guys on the Approach Control, Departure Control and the main Air Routes. I'm not talking about the guy in the glass, I'm talking about the folks further down who do most of the "Control". I'm not sure about this, but it seems that most of what they are looking at on their screens is an Electronic Transponder rather than a true skin paint radar. It may be a combination, I really don't know, but that's how it looks to me. None of those screens are set up for Weather and probably wouldn't show anything of that nature anyway.

How does all this go with the original push to this story? In the end, it's the Pilot who commands the aircraft. The ATC's job is to give him the best recommendation possibly and in cases of very strict control, put that Pilot on the ground safely. The obvious stuff a Pilot can steer around. Most often Pilots are giving updates to the controllers so they are not totally un-aware of what's going on. The NWS has a role here as well. Most cases, they are supposed to contact the ATC's and let them know what's going on. Like anything else though, they are human and can get caught up in what's going on and forget to make a phone call.

Would a NOAA Weather Radio help? I don't know. This has the appearance of more a "letter of the Law" rather than the "Spirit of the Law" type case. You WILL find that mentality in any organization. Unfortunately, it seems to be more common in Government Agencies that most civilian agencies.

I've rambled a bit too much here.

There are a few LSR's in the archives that mention the tower evacuating as a tornado approached, so my guess is they didn't think the tower was tornado-proof... I'm not sure why you think the entire tower should evacuate if a warning is issued for half the county - I think they should be aware of the tornado warning and be watching for it. And this is not confined to Florida - the FAA is a national entity.

- Rob
ya, the faa definetly should have a more "spirit of the law" attitude but they wont.

As for any FAA facility evacuating, I am of the opinion that that should almost never happen. Maybe in the middle of the country for tornados, but not in florida. KDAB is an air carrier airport... would be better to keep 2 tower guys in the tower where they are unlikely to be hurt even if a tornado hits, than to risk 150 passengers and crew coming in on an airliner from atlanta. If they run into another plane, they all die.
I'm not sure if this is really a serious discussion now or not (about air traffic controllers being required to ride out a tornado)?!, but..... Isn't there some type of redundancy for air traffic controllers in the event that something happens at one of the towers? Tornadoes aren't the only thing that could incapacitiate the staff or systems at a single control tower. No above-ground structure is safe enough to require staff to take a tornado hit. If the controllers die in the tornado or if the tower/systems are taken out, then the planes are in trouble anyway. As for Florida not having a tornado threat, violent tornadoes happen all over the USA every year.
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Yes there is... The airliner coming in from Atlanta will assume a standard holding pattern and communicate with other centers if DAB were to be knocked out. They will not run into another plane with 150 deaths.
Daytona tower, approach and departure, control a wide swath of floridas east coast. You simply cannot have them leave their posts. You cant just give up on a signficant sector of airspace, that is heavily used, durring ifr conditions, and hope miami and jax centers take over in time. The odds of having 2 planes ending up holding at the same fix at the same altitude is much higher than the odds of a florida tornado taking out a steel/concrete tower or approach/departure facility.