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PLEASE NOTE: The following transcript is a portion of the official hearing record of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Additional material pertinent to this transcript may be found on the web site of the Committee at [http://www.house.gov/transportation]. Complete hearing records are available for review at the Committee offices and also may be purchased at the U.S. Government Printing Office.







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SEPTEMBER 30, 1997

Printed for the use of the

Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure


BUD SHUSTER, Pennsylvania, Chairman

THOMAS E. PETRI, Wisconsin
HOWARD COBLE, North Carolina
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JOHN J. DUNCAN, Jr., Tennessee
JAY KIM, California
STEPHEN HORN, California
BOB FRANKS, New Jersey
JOHN L. MICA, Florida
SUE W. KELLY, New York
RAY LaHOOD, Illinois
FRANK RIGGS, California
CHARLES F. BASS, New Hampshire
JACK METCALF, Washington
ROY BLUNT, Missouri
JOSEPH R. PITTS, Pennsylvania
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JOHN R. THUNE, South Dakota
CHARLES W. ''CHIP'' PICKERING, Jr., Mississippi
JON D. FOX, Pennsylvania
J.C. WATTS, Jr., Oklahoma

NICK J. RAHALL II, West Virginia
ROBERT A. BORSKI, Pennsylvania
ROBERT E. WISE, Jr., West Virginia
BOB CLEMENT, Tennessee
ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON, District of Columbia
PAT DANNER, Missouri
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JAMES E. CLYBURN, South Carolina
BOB FILNER, California
FRANK MASCARA, Pennsylvania
GENE TAYLOR, Mississippi
BILL PASCRELL, Jr., New Jersey
JAY W. JOHNSON, Wisconsin
JAMES P. McGOVERN, Massachusetts
TIM HOLDEN, Pennsylvania

Subcommittee on Aviation

JOHN J. DUNCAN, Jr., Tennessee, Chairman

ROY BLUNT, Missouri Vice Chairman
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RAY LaHOOD, Illinois
CHARLES F. BASS, New Hampshire
JACK METCALF, Washington
JOSEPH R. PITTS, Pennsylvania
CHARLES W. ''CHIP'' PICKERING, Jr., Mississippi
JON D. FOX, Pennsylvania
J.C. WATTS, Jr., Oklahoma
BUD SHUSTER, Pennsylvania
(Ex Officio)

NICK J. RAHALL II, West Virginia
PAT DANNER, Missouri
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JAMES E. CLYBURN, South Carolina
(Ex Officio)




    Boyer, Phil, President, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association

    DeVincenzi, Michael, Vice President, Operations, Westair/United Express

    Flemming, Hon. Nancy, Mayor, Eureka, CA

    Hunter, Dennis, President, Humboldt Bay Harbor Recreation and Conservation District

    Morgan, Ronald E., Director of Air Traffic, Federal Aviation Administration
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    Pike, Walter W., CEO, National Association of Air Traffic Specialists

    Riggs, Hon. Frank D., a Representative in Congress from California


    Costello, Hon. Jerry F., of Illinois

    Cramer, Hon. Bud, of Alabama

    Lipinski, Hon. William O., of Illinois

    Poshard, Hon. Glenn, of Illinois

    Rahall, Hon. Nick J., II, of West Virginia

    Riggs, Hon. Frank D., of California


    Boyer, Phil

    DeVincenzi, Michael

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    Flemming, Hon. Nancy

    Hunter, Dennis

    Morgan, Ronald E

    Pike, Walter W


    Fleming, Hon. Nancy, Mayor, Eureka, CA, resolution supporting the retention of flight service personnel at the McKinleyville/Arcata Airport in Humboldt County, California

    Pike, Walter W., CEO, National Association of Air Traffic Specialists, chart, FAA Flight Service Station Staffing, 1981–1995

    Riggs, Hon. Frank D., a Representative in Congress from California, article, ''Public Pleads to Save Flight Service'', McKinleyville Press, July 8, 1997



    Anonymous, observations on the situation at the Arcata Airport since the closure of the Flight Service Station, September 1997
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    Bernard, James D., Air Traffic Control Specialist, unsatisfactory condition report, Arcata Flight Service Station, September 25, 1997

    Brattain, Dan, Reservation Ranch, letter, September 26, 1997

    Castaldi, Alfonse E., Executive Air Charter, statement

    Coyne, James K., President, National Air Transportation Association, letter, October 1, 1997

    DeVincenzi, Vice President of Operations, United Express, letter, February 25, 1997

    Griffith, Jeff, Flight Service Architecture Core Group, charter

Letter to Hon. Barry Valentine, Acting Administrator, Federal Aviation Administration, from Hon. John J. Duncan, Jr., Chairman, Subcommittee on Aviation, House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Hon. Frank D. Riggs, a Representative in Congress from California, July 16, 1997

Letter to Hon. Jane Garvey, Administrator-Designate, Federal Aviation Administration, from Rep. Duncan, Rep. Riggs and Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Chairman, Subcommittee on Transportation, House Committee on Appropriations, July 25, 1997

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    Letter to Rep. Frank D. Riggs, from Monte R. Belger, Associate Administrator for Air Traffic Services, August 6, 1997




U.S. House of Representatives,

Subcommittee on Aviation,

Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure,

Washington, DC.

    The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 2 p.m., in room 2167, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. John Duncan (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.

    Mr. DUNCAN [presiding]. The subcommittee will now come to order.
    First of all, I'd like to say good afternoon, and let me thank all of the witnesses for being with us today. Several of our witnesses have traveled from California to be with us, and so we very much appreciate the time and effort that all of you have taken to share your concerns with us and for being here to represent your community.
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    This hearing was scheduled at the request of my good friend and colleague, Congressman Frank Riggs, a member of this committee. Mr. Riggs is an outstanding and very effective member of the Transportation Committee, and he represents the First District of California with great dedication and high principle here in Washington.

    Today, we will consider legislation, H.R. 1454, introduced by Congressman Riggs, that would essentially—or whose goal is to ensure that the Eureka-Arcata Flight Service Station in the McKinleyville, California remains open, or reopen as it stands today, and at the request of the distinguished ranking member of the Full Committee, Mr. Oberstar, we will also review the Federal Aviation Administration's 16-year effort to close and consolidate flight service stations across the country.

    As we get started, I would just mention that I had the opportunity to visit the flight service station in McKinleyville this past summer on July 2nd. Congressman Riggs and I heard from numerous individuals: pilots, organizations, and users of the airport. I know that over the years there have been concerns about the closing and consolidating these flight service stations in certain areas, and I would say that in almost all of these cases, the flight service stations, probably, should have been closed and have been closed without any harmful effects or any deterioration in the safety. But I must say that after hearing from the concerned people in Eureka and learning that the airport there averages 256 days a year of poor weather conditions that force pilots to fly by instrument flight rules, I was personally convinced that a flight service station there would, I think, provide a better level of safety. It is my understanding, however, that the FAA closed this facility at midnight last Wednesday. I'm not aware of any other airport in the country that experiences weather conditions quite like those that the Eureka-Arcata Airport faces for some two-thirds of the year. In fact, the Navy built this airport several years ago as an inclement weather training center for naval flyers. So, we look forward, today, to hearing from our witnesses on this particular situation and this flight service station and the program as a whole.
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    As I mentioned earlier, we also will hear today about the FAA's long-term project of closing and consolidating these flight service stations all across the Nation. In 1981, there were 318 of these stations, employing over 6,000 Federal employees. Today, it is my understanding that there are two flight service stations that remain open, both in North Carolina, and both will be shut down at one minute past midnight tonight. So, all of the flight service stations in the continental U.S. effectively are closed and have been replaced by 61 automated flight service stations, employing 3,300 people. I understand, however, that 14 stations in Alaska remain open because of some unique operational conditions and the remoteness of the locations which are dependent on traveling by airplane, and I think one of the main purposes of this hearing, today, is to determine whether we do have a unique situation at McKinleyville as I am, perhaps, lead to believe.

    The FAA estimates that they have saved the taxpayers $270 million over the last 16 years in their closing and consolidation efforts. This is certainly commendable, and I for one appreciate greatly the fact that the FAA has, I think—or many people in the FAA are trying to save hard-earned taxpayers dollars.

    I look forward to this afternoon's hearing, and I yield, at this time, to my good friend, the very distinguished ranking member of the subcommittee, Mr. Lipinski.

    Mr. LIPINSKI. I thank my good friend, Chairman Duncan, for yielding to me. I simply want to say that I have a statement which I would like to have inserted in the record. I look forward to hearing the testimony from all the witnesses, and I yield back the balance of my time.
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    [The prepared statement of Mr. Lipinski follows:]

    [Insert here.]

    Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much. Vice Chairman Blunt? Mr. Poshard?

    Mr. POSHARD. Mr. Chairman, I'd just like to ask unanimous consent to enter an opening statement for the record.

    Mr. DUNCAN. That will be fine, and that's so ordered. Mr. Rahall.

    [The prepared statement of Mr. Poshard follows:]

    [Insert here.]

    Mr. RAHALL. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'll make the same request that my opening statement be made a part of the record as well at this point.

    Mr. DUNCAN. That's fine, and it will be placed in the record. Mrs. Johnson.

    [The prepared statement of Mr. Rahall follows:]
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    [Insert here.]

    Ms. JOHNSON Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I wish to express my appreciation for you calling this hearing and look forward to hearing the witnesses. I have no further opening statement. Thank you.

    Mr. DUNCAN. All right. Thank you very much.

    We will, at this time, if—Mr. Riggs, if you've had a chance—you need to catch your breath? Do You want us to go ahead and start with the——


    I've given my——

    Mr. RIGGS. One hearing to another.

    [The prepared statements of Mr. Costello and Mr. Cramer follow:]

    [Insert here.]

    Mr. DUNCAN. I've given my statement, and so we're ready now for yours if you wish to proceed at this time, and we thank you very much for being here with us today.
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    Mr. RIGGS. Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman and colleagues. Because of your very strong personal interest in this issue, which is of vital importance to my congressional district, as you'll hear from my good friends and constituents who will be following me in testifying before the subcommittee today, and, again, I want to publicly thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to visit our part of the world recently to investigate this situation firsthand. Your personal awareness and the observations that you gathered from your visit, I think are going to be very important as we deliberate my proposed legislation.

    I appear before you today, as you well know, as the author of H.R. 1454, the Community Flight Service Act of 1997. I introduced this legislation, specifically, to stop the closure of the flight service station at Eureka-Arcata Airport in McKinleyville in Humboldt County, California, the largest county in my congressional district. Unfortunately, in one sense, I guess, the—my legislation is a day late and a dollar short, because the FAA has proceeded with their plans and closed the station on September 24th, effectively replacing the manned flight service observation capacity at that airport—the foggiest in the continental United States, I might add—with the automated system.

    This airport experiences the most number of inclement weather days of any airport in the entire United States, yet, as a commercial airport, it keeps getting busier and busier. On an average of 256 days a year, the weather in the Eureka-Arcata area is so poor that pilots flying into the airport must use instrument flight rules for departures and arrivals. It's also, I might add, a very heavily used airport by general aviation, or private pilots.
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    Constructed in 1942, this airport was occupied by the United States Navy for the sole purpose of instructing naval flyers on inclement weather operations. Between 1944 and 1950, the airport became known as the foggiest airport in the country and has retained that moniker to this day. In 1950, the Navy turned over ownership of the airport to Humboldt County government.

    The Eureka-Arcata Airport is a vital economic and lifesaving link to and from the north coast of California. Currently, the airport serves two commercial airlines for commercial service, the Pacific Northwest and for commercial service down to the San Francisco Bay Area, down to San Francisco International Airport, and it also serves several freight carriers and corporate and private aviation planes. During times of emergency when road and rail service have been wiped out or closed due to massive flooding, the airport has served as the only visible location, the only link to receiving necessary aid and emergency personnel to our area.

    Real-time weather observation at the Eureka-Arcata Airport has been handled by a crew of seven flight service station, or FAA personnel, who provide human weather observations. This is critical in a location in which the weather can change in a matter of a few minutes, and this airport is, literally, located within, really, less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean and the coast. Unfortunately, the FAA has decided to remove the personnel from this station, and replace them with an automated system, effectively making no distinction between this airport and other airports around the country in inland locations that may, in fact, be appropriate for conversion to a fully automated system. I personally believe and my constituents who will testify, as well as the director of operations for Westair Airlines, the subsidiary of United Airlines that serves this airport, we all, I think, are unanimously agreed that this decision by the FAA is dangerously shortsighted and one which could and, I think, is jeopardizing the safety of travelers to the California north coast.
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    In March of this year, the FAA announced its decision to close the flight service station and replace the personnel there with the Automated Surface Observating—excuse me, Observing System, or ASOS. As many of you probably know, this ASOS system gathers weather information such as wind speed, temperature, and sky cover, and relays that information to another automated system in Oakland, California, over 300 miles away. I do not believe pilots in route to the Eureka-Arcata Airport are better served by weather reports from a remote location. Flight service station personnel located on the ground in McKinleyville at the airport are better able to relay critical, up-to-the-minute weather reports directly to the pilots. Conditions at this airport are such that the runway may be clear while fog hides the airport. I mean, it's that unpredictable, and the weather changes are that sudden. Human flight service personnel at manned observation capacity can make the critical decision in allowing a plane to land. The ASOS, by comparison, is incapable of making that decision. The ASOS can look straight up, and if it sees fog, regardless of runway clarity, will prevent aircraft from landing or taking off. The flight service station personnel can clear flights to land, and prevent unnecessary delays and cancellations. Furthermore, flight service personnel, can, if the weather changes instantaneously, divert flights to other airports.

    One other fact I'd like to mention, Mr. Chairman, and that is that the flight service personnel at the station have in the past aided the United State Coast Guard which have a nearby lifesaving search and rescue operation. The ASOS can neither make safe observations regarding fast moving weather patterns nor can it aid critical Coast Guard operations.

    As I mentioned earlier, you were kind enough, Mr. Chairman, to visit our area and come to the airport on July 2nd. We also conducted, as you'll recall, a forum in Eureka, that day, on the closure of the flight service station, and we heard from many people who fly in and out of the airport on the glaring safety concerns presented by an automated system and the impact on the local economy of canceled flights.
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    Subsequent to that forum, we, you and I, discussed this situation with our colleague, Frank Wolf, Chairman of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, and met with him in an effort to prevent the FAA from closing the flight service station. We were unsuccessful, because, as I mentioned, the FAA proceeded with the closure, but they have agreed, the FAA, on an indefinite basis, to maintain a contract weather observer at the airport, and the role of that contract weather observer is to stand by observing the automated equipment, and that contract weather observer cannot communicate directly with pilots, and, again, that gives us very real concerns about the safety of pilots and passengers flying in and out of this particular airport.

    So, Mr. Chairman, I really strongly suggest to you and my colleagues that this is the exception to the rule; that this is the airport, a busy, commercial airport, one that is used by the general aviation private pilot community as well, that ought to be spared from the FAA's reinventing plans to convert manned flight service stations to a fully operated—fully automated system; that we need to reopen that flight service station at the earliest date which is exactly the intent of my legislation, and I want to thank you, again, for visiting us and taking a personal interest in this situation, and I want to thank my colleagues, the members of this subcommittee for their time this afternoon in this hearing on the very important subject of flight safety for the north coast of California, and with your permission, Mr. Chairman, there are several articles that appeared in the local media that I would like to submit for the record along with my testimony.

    [The information received follows:]

    [Insert here.]
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    Mr. DUNCAN. Well, Frank, thank you very much, and I have mentioned in my opening statement that your airport is one that has, as you said, 256 days of bad weather each year, and we certainly did when we were there. We heard from many, many witnesses who said that the Eureka-Arcata Airport is the exception; that the weather can change in just a few seconds or a few minutes from very good to just horrible weather conditions. Frankly, I've said to Mr. Lipinski just now, that I was amazed that we've had this many members turn out for what is essentially a very localized type hearing, at least on the surface, although there may be certain other places where they have exceptional conditions also, but I think it's a real tribute to you that so many members have come out. And we follow a policy on this subcommittee of not asking members any questions, because we have a chance to talk these things over with you at so many other points, and we want to move on to the other witnesses, but I do want to give you a chance to—I'm going to let you introduce the next panel, but, also, I want to give you a chance to join us here on the dais if you would like for the remainder of this hearing, and I want to really apologize to Mr. Pitts because I was looking right at him and I forgot to see if he—do you have an opening statement of any kind? Mr. Hutchinson? Mr. Cook? Dr. Cooksey slipped out for a minute. Mrs. Millender-McDonald, do you have any statements you wish to make?

    Ms. MILLENDER-MCDONALD. Obviously, coming from the State of California, I do have a statement to make. And, one, is that I am in accord with Congressman Riggs. I am in support of the position that he is and certainly support the amendment that he has.

    Mr. DUNCAN. Well, thank you very much. Mr. Boswell, do you have anything you wish to say?
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    Mr. BOSWELL. No, I don't think so. I apologize for not being here, Mr. Chairman, when you started. The things I'd like to ask is, like, what is the intensity and so on? I'm sure I'll hear from others, so I won't do that, but I do notice in some of our information that you handed out to us—and thank you for that—there was a non-functioning ASOS station there, and, at some point, I want to hear from the FAA what they intend to do about some of these. I have one in contention, myself.

    Mr. DUNCAN. Okay. Well, you'll have that opportunity, and now, Mr. Riggs, if you would just call up this first panel and introduce them and say anything about them that you would like to say. I believe all of them are your—are, possibly, they're all your constituents.

    Mr. RIGGS. Two of the three are, Mr. Chairman.

    Mr. DUNCAN. Two of the three.

    Mr. RIGGS. Let me—I don't need to look at any notes to make introductions of these two good friends and constituents. One is, as they come forward, Nancy Flemming. She is the mayor of the City of Eureka, the county seat of Humboldt County, a very long time and dear friend. The other is an equally good friend, Dennis Hunter, who's a private pilot. He's president of the Humboldt Bay Harbor Recreation and Conservation District and vice president of the Redwood Region Economic Development Commission—I might add that I've had the pleasure of flying the friendly skies of the California north coast with Dennis on several occasions. Joining them will be Michael DeVincenzi who is the vice president of operations for Westair Airlines, or United Express, as we know it better. I'm looking over at Mr. Rahall who I know has a son attending College of the Redwoods in Humboldt County, and Nick and I have had chance to talk about that several times, and we roll out the red carpet for him whenever he comes up to our part of the world, and I know he is familiar, of course, with the airport and the commercial service that Westair, or United Express, provides to that airport.
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    Mr. DUNCAN. Well, thank you very much, and you may join us up here at this time, and we will proceed with the order of witnesses as listed in the notice of the hearing, and that means that Mayor Flemming will be the first witness. Mayor Flemming, you may begin your testimony, and I want to personally thank each of you for being here with us today.


    Mayor FLEMMING. Well, I want to thank all of you. I know it's actually your lunch hour, so I'm really impressed that so many are here, and it's good to see you again, and I appreciate your concerns.

    I am here as mayor of the City of Eureka to emphasize to you the importance of retaining the FAA flight service station personnel at the Arcata-Eureka Airport. Eureka is a place of intensity. While the area has intense beauty, gorgeous forests, and a beautiful bay, all assets, we on the north coast cherish and nourish. At the same time, we have intense weather, high winds, and harsh and foggy—as they stated earlier, the foggiest coastal conditions in the United States—very similar to the Alaskan cities that we discussed earlier also. We suffer the same dangerous conditions and are asking the same consideration given to those Alaskan sites.

    We must protect our people, and foster economic growth, and the FAA Flight Service Station at McKinleyville is essential to the areas transportation needs. We rely heavily on the flight service station personnel, and without a manned flight service station, our industrial and economic growth, fed heavily by air transportation and commercial services, is crippled. As of September 25th, after the FAA has already pulled out, the ASOS was not functioning, as you mentioned earlier. We find that terrifying. I flew out yesterday in awesome conditions. The FAA promised that it would be functioning before the closure. The FAA left with no emergency plan. Any Federal agency that irresponsible should be questioned. We need your help.
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    We were once referred to as being behind the redwood curtain. With 12 flights a day and our improved highway systems, we're now the redwood gateway. Please don't break down that redwood curtain once again. This is a time when we need to increase services, not reduce our strengths. I strongly urge retention of the flight service personnel at the Arcata-Eureka Airport as maintenance of the facility is crucial, not only to the economic well being of the north coast but to the safety of our residents as well. Thank you very much for hearing me.

    Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mayor Flemming, and our next witness will be Mr. Dennis Hunter who is the—with the Redwood Region Economic Development Commission. Mr. Hunter.

    Mr. HUNTER. Thank you, Congressman Duncan, and thank you for your earlier visit out to Eureka-Arcata. We greatly appreciate it.

    Mr. DUNCAN. Well, let me just say that I really enjoyed that visit. You have a beautiful part of the country there, and I hope that I can come back some time.

    Mr. HUNTER. Well, I hope to see you back.

    Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you.


    Mr. HUNTER. Thank you, members of the committee, and, also, I bring a special hello to Congressman Rahall from Roy Curliss, and he got through another rodeo.
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    Mr. RAHALL. If I might, Roy is a very good friend of mine. He has taken me on tour—on a tour of just about every inch of Humboldt County, and told me the history of the County, and I have in front of me a letter that he has personally written me, sending me all the press of the particular situation.

    Mr. HUNTER. Oh, great. Well, again, thank you very much. I had a prepared testimony that I wanted to read, but I had a couple of examples, as a pilot and as a passenger, on the way here that might be more indicative of some of our problems.

    The FAA has a responsibility to create safe and expeditious airflow into and out of an area. That is a responsibility that they stated at an earlier hearing, last year, in Eureka. Also, they promised equal or better service, and I can tell you, as a passenger and as a pilot, we're certainly not getting the equal or better service from the FAA at this point.

    I flew a private flight last Friday from Eureka to Concord, California, which is probably a 250-mile flight in clear weather conditions, and when a private pilot files, they ask for a weather briefing. I received a weather briefing from the open flight service station. It took me a great deal of time to research and find out what the number was to contact Oakland. Our local FBO didn't have that number, so I called and gave them the number; they have it now. At the end of a briefing, if there are any particular changes in any airports that concern a pilot's flight, that is given to the pilot, and it's called a notem, or notice to airmen. There were no frequencies given by the open flight service station to me to contact Oakland, locally, in Eureka, because everything had changed. So, I contacted Seattle Center, and I was able to get off the ground despite guessing the right frequency. On the way back, I asked for weather at my destination. The weather reporting point up in northern California, up on the north coast, is Arcata. So, I said to the flight service station, I said, ''I'm flying into Eureka-Murray, I'd like Arcata's weather report.'' They said, ''Well, you said you're not landing at Arcata. Why do you want Arcata's weather report?'' I said, ''Sir, Eureka-Murray is seven miles south of Arcata, and Arcata is the weather report.'' I didn't know that I had time to give Oakland instruction, but they said, ''Well, we're learning down here. We still don't have things set up properly yet; bear with us.'' So they should have kept it open while they're setting things up.
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    Yesterday, when we left to come back here to Washington, D.C., the fog was on the ground at Arcata, and, as your chairman said earlier, the weather changes instantaneously, and it did. The fog burnt off, and there we were sitting on the taxiway in bright sunshine for 30 minutes; sitting there. When we arrived in San Francisco, I asked the pilot when I got off, I told him I was coming back here, and I asked him what the problem was and he said, ''By the time that the weather observer on the ground contacted Oakland, and Oakland contacted the Air Traffic Control Center in Seattle, 25 minutes had elapsed.'' Two planes came in on IFR; they could have come in on clear weather, or VFR, had they been notified by a real person on the ground, and that's what that area of the country really needs.

    A couple of things, we talked about the ASOS which is now installed but not working. It has an unreliable history in areas of coastal fog and salty air conditions where it must perform flawlessly when there are no weather observers on hand. We talked about the foggiest airport in the country, and, chairman, Congressman Duncan, that was a good history of the airport. That's why the airport was there in the first place; it was practice for flying in and out of the foggiest airport that they could find, and without accurate and continuous real-time weather updates and trends by manned observers, pilots will not be able to make appropriate safety decisions.

    We talked about the emergencies; I won't get into that one. One thing I will get into is the increased workload for pilots. Now, there are five different radio frequencies the pilot must turn to, to be able to get on the ground safely in IFR conditions. Previously, there was two. This is increased workload for the pilots. Distractions can happen, and that's an accident waiting to happen. There are no traffic advisories available nor any other advisories for the other airports in the immediate area. There are four other airports within the instrument approach path of the Arcata Airport.
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    I'll shift, now, to some of the economic devastation that could occur. We're in the middle of developing our port, and, in fact, our Congressman, Frank Riggs, has done a great deal in bringing our deepening project to reality and, Frank, we're ready to start in January on that deepening project, thanks to you. And, now, one of the most important transportation cogs is ready to be pulled out of the area. We're really concerned that we're going to lose United and Horizon. We'll have no commercial air out of the area. Our weather every winter is such that the only way in and out of the area—in fact, last winter it was the same thing—is by air. Our highways get blocked; our rail gets blocked; it's rough out in the ocean. The only way in and out is through air.

    The former Congressman, Don Claussen, told me—in fact, I talked to him last night, and he was out in Eureka when you were there—he said, ''We definitely need educated eyeballs on the ground,'' and I think that's really important; real-time observations of someone talking to the pilots telling them what the situation is on the ground. And I think—I'm going to cut short there except to say that we desperately need this flight station open, and it's not just our region, it's because our region is in such a critical weather area that we need a manned real-time observer on the ground giving advice to the pilots.

    The economic future of the northern California counties of Humboldt and Del Norte is really, literally, in your hands, and we ask that you please don't let us down. Thank you.

    Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Hunter. And I might just mention to the other members, I recall that the FAA said that—when we our for our forum—that closing this center would save only about $200,000 a year.
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    Mr. HUNTER. Right, that's what I recall.

    Mr. DUNCAN. While I did, in my statement, commend the FAA for trying to save everything that they could, and I think there have been some good savings from closing many of these, as I say, the purpose of this hearing is to find out if this airport is the exception that needs to be kept open, and we'll see.

    Our next witness is Mr. Michael DeVincenzi who is with Westair United Express. Mr. DeVincenzi.

    Mr. DEVINCENZI. Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, members of the committee. I am vice president of Westair Airlines. We operate as United Express from California, and serve 28 cities in California, Oregon, and Arizona. I am also an airline transport pilot and have flown as a captain for Westair since 1976. I am here to testify today on the effects of the closure of the flight service station at Arcata Airport.

    When Westair started serving Arcata 20 years ago, I was flying 8-passenger piston powered cessna 402's. I have flown 30-passenger, 36-passenger, and 18-passenger turbo-props into Arcata. For 5 years, I flew 4-engine 90-passenger jets into Arcata, and over the past 21 years I have flown, literally, thousands of approaches into the Arcata Airport. I tell you this so that you'll believe me when I tell you I'm intimately knowledgeable of the weather patterns at the Arcata Airport. I can safely say that had the flight service station been replaced with the proposed automated system 20 years ago, hundreds upon hundreds of my flights would have not been flown, stranding thousands and thousands of passengers.
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    WestAir Airlines is the most active commercial operator in Arcata providing scheduled passenger service to Crescent City, Sacramento, and San Francisco. Current service provides 768 available seats per day into and out of Arcata. At a current load factor of 70 percent, over 500 United Express passengers travel through Arcata each day.

    Now, I'm very concerned that with the replacement of the flight service station with Automated Surface Observation System, the ASOS, the elements of a manmade observation will be omitted. These elements include but are not limited to sector visibility v. prevailing visibility. Now this is the visibility in different directions, an enormously important factor in the Arcata environment.

    Sector clouds heights versus manmade observations; this would be the different cloud bases around the airport. One end of the airport might have a 100-foot ceiling; another end of the airport might have a 200-foot ceiling; somewhere else might have a 300-foot ceiling, so we're very dependent on airplanes making it into the airport. A machine at one spot reporting ceiling heights is not able to do this.

    Runway visual range and rapidly changing weather conditions will not be reported by an automated surface observation system. Now, the lack of this data will impact our operation by reducing our scheduled reliability, forcing the cancellation and/or the diversion of many flights. Flights cancelled and flights diverted back to the point of origin due to weather are beyond the control of Westair, and as such, our obligations to our passengers are minimal.

    In your travels, you likely have been—you likely have had to deal with cancelled flights. The resultant disruption to your schedule is immediate and costly. It is reasonable to say that thousands of Humboldt County residents will be forced to stay at hotels at their own expense; business travelers will miss important meetings, and vacationers will see their itinerary modified. We would at WestAir would expect that the residents of Humboldt County and those traveling to it deserve better than this ''modernization plan'' will allow, and I ask you to step forward, and please help us keep this flight service station open.
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    Thank you for having me here today and listening to my concerns.

    Mr. DUNCAN. Well, thank you very much, Mr. DeVincenzi. It's impressive testimony when you say that hundreds of those flights would have been cancelled or delayed, following many thousands of passengers.

    But, I'll go first, for questions, to Mr. Lipinski.

    Mr. LIPINSKI. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I thank everyone for their testimony, and this is a question for any one of the panelists that would like to answer it or Congressman Riggs if he wants to jump into it.

    Is there any other flight service station in the continental United States with precise weather conditions to this one that hasn't been closed down that you know of?

    Mayor FLEMMING. Actually, there are—there is no other airport in the United States that has as many instrument flight landings as this airport. Again, this is such an urgent issue because of the uniqueness of this airport. There's not one other one in the United States.

    Mr. LIPINSKI. What about the ones in Alaska? Why weren't they closed down, and yours were—was?

    Mr. HUNTER. Sir, this is one of the things we brought out at an earlier hearing. It's our understanding that there was a satellite flight service station that met three requirements in Alaska, therefore, it was to remain open. Number one, it was in a remote area, the north coast certainly qualifies; number two, it had rugged terrain, the north coast sure qualifies there, and number three, it had more days of inclement weather than good weather in a year, and we certainly qualify there. So I would ask that question too. How did that—? you know, I'm glad that stayed open, but I hope that ours would meet the same requirement.
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    Mr. LIPINSKI. Didn't I read someplace that there are 13 open in Alaska? No? Just one? Oh, Fourteen?

    Mayor FLEMMING. A lot.

    Mr. LIPINSKI. Wait, I'm listening to four conversations at one time here.

    My chief staff said the FAA would probably be better to answer that, and I definitely agree, but I wanted to find out what you had heard from the FAA, because I'm quite sure you've talked to them about it, and then I could find out later on what they were going to tell me.

    I didn't have the opportunity to go there when Chairman Duncan went there, so could you tell me for my own information exactly where your airport is located, maybe in proximity to San Francisco or something like that?

    Mr. HUNTER. Yes, Arcata is—Eureka-Arcata is 300 miles north of San Francisco; 90 miles south of the Oregon-California border, right on the coast. Cape Mendocino which is probably the distinguished landmark there is the furtherest point west of the continental United States, and that's where all of the weather systems start.

    Mr. LIPINSKI. And since the service station was closed down, you're going to get your information out of Seattle? Is that correct?
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    Mr. HUNTER. No, we get our—

    Mr. LIPINSKI. Oakland?

    Mr. HUNTER. Yes, we've been told we get our information out of Oakland. We are controlled by the—this gets confusing—we're controlled by the Seattle air traffic control, but we get our weather information——

    Mr. LIPINSKI. I knew Seattle was in there someplace.

    Mr. HUNTER. ——but we get our information from the Oakland flight service station.

    Mr. LIPINSKI. And you're 300 miles from Oakland?

    Mr. HUNTER. Yes.

    Mr. LIPINSKI. How far are you from Portland?

    Mr. HUNTER. Probably 400 miles.

    Mr. LIPINSKI. Four hundred miles?

    Mr. HUNTER. Right.
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    Mr. LIPINSKI. That's the only questions I have at the present time, Mr. Chairman. Thank you.

    Mr. DUNCAN. All right, thank you very much. Mr. Blunt.

    Mr. BLUNT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. DeVincenzi, have you ever flown into an airport as difficult as this one, weatherwise. Sounds like the variation from one end of the runway to the other is pretty incredible.

    Mr. DEVINCENZI. It is pretty incredible, Congressman, and it can happen very quickly. I've stood on the airport surface, and watched it go from 10 miles visibility to 0 in a matter of 7 or 8 minutes. Conversely, I've seen it—I've been standing there, not being able to see the runway which is about 600 or 700 feet away, and 6 or 7 minutes later it's clear. The problem pilots have when they're airborne—and this fog that we're talking about is only a couple hundred feet thick. So it starts at the surface and 200 feet above that is perfectly clearly, and we're sitting out in a holding pattern—we're not getting the information relayed fast enough in order to begin an initial in-approach in a timely manner.

    In other words it could open up, and if the flight service station was there, they could call it clear—the fog has moved away for a few moments. We could shoot a couple of airplanes in, and then the fog covers at the airport again. With an automated system, we're not going to get the opportunity to shoot a couple of flights in quickly.

    Mr. BLUNT. Now the FAA is going to say later that they've had these automated systems in for a decade and have had no problems with them. I assume you've landed at airports and used airports that have the automated system.
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    Mr. DEVINCENZI. Oh, inland, sir, they have an ASOS system at Bakersfield, California that we use when the tower is closed there. They have one at Santa Rosa—we use that when the tower is closed there—completely different factors involved. Those are both inland airports. The weather doesn't change as rapidly or as violently or as quickly, and we can pretty much count on an ASOS report from one of those stations being accurate, even if it's 25 minutes old. We just can't trust an ASOS report from Arcata.

    Mr. BLUNT. And so the point you're making is that the ASOS, the automated system—you don't have any real problems with it under most conditions, but at this airport, you just believe from personal experience and your airline experience there that this is not going to work at this airport.

    Mr. DEVINCENZI. That's correct, sir.

    Mr. BLUNT. Mayor, have there been any accidents at this airport?

    Mayor FLEMMING. Actually, you'd have to ask the pilot here. There have been near misses, but not a crash recently. Our fear is that this seems to be a local problem at the moment; if there is, indeed, a crash, it would be a national heartbreak. That's our concern.

    Mr. BLUNT. Mr. Hunter.

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    Mr. HUNTER. Yes, sir. This has only been closed since last week, and as of now there have been no accidents, thank God, but I look back to the accident in Quincy, Illinois, which I understand is a perfect example of not having a manned flight service station. So, the answer to your question would be, not yet.

    Mr. BLUNT. With the manned service, even though you've got these unusual weather conditions, this is not an airport that's had unusual accidents in the past——

    Mr. HUNTER. No, sir.

    Mr. BLUNT. ——and you attribute a lot of that to the fact that there are people there.

    Mayor FLEMMING. Absolutely.

    Mr. HUNTER. Yes, in fact there have been several examples of specialists on duty who know the local terrain who have been able to talk lost pilots who are trapped underneath the fog into a safe landing.

    Mr. BLUNT. Right. Now did you say a minute ago that this closed? I thought today was the last day of operation.

    Mr. HUNTER. I think that was another flight service station that Chairman Duncan was referring to. No, we closed last week. We were granted a temporary stay back in California that was lifted, and, in fact, either good or bad for us, the day that it closed there were several flights canceled due to ground fog—so it was last week.
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    Mr. BLUNT. Any particular times of the year that are more difficult to get in than others? Are we out of that or approaching that or in the middle of it?

    Mayor FLEMMING. In the middle of it.

    Mr. DEVINCENZI. Well, we're approaching the end of the cycle, as far as getting difficult to get in and out. The violent weather is coming up. The cold fronts, the fast-moving, violent weather and thunderstorms—that's coming in. Usually the summer-time pattern is the fog that closes the airport.

    Mr. BLUNT. Okay. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

    Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much. We're always honored to have the ranking member of the full committee, Mr. Oberstar, with us, and Mr. Oberstar, you may make any comments or ask any questions that you have at this time.

    Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I apologize; I was delayed getting here, but I was dealing with another FAA technology issue which will be the subject of further hearings in this subcommittee as we progress.

    And I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for scheduling this hearing, re-visiting this issue of flight service stations and weather reporting. It's a matter we addressed first more than a decade-and-a-half ago in the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, and subsequently in the Aviation Subcommittee.
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    This matter of getting timely, accurate, reliable weather information is extremely important for small towns to sustain air service. Your testimony, which I read prior to this hearing, certainly underscores the significance of flight service stations. And when FAA began over 15 years ago the process of consolidation and automation of flight service stations, general aviation pilots were very concerned about the very points you are raising today.

    I understand that your flight service station is closed, and that the automated weather service station that you have to depend upon from Eureka is at Oakland. Does Oakland have terminal Doppler weather radar?

    Mayor FLEMMING. Does Oakland what?

    Mr. OBERSTAR. Do they have TDWR?

    Mr. DEVINCENZI. I don't know, Congressman.

    Mr. OBERSTAR. Do you know what technology they have? Do they have an ASOS?

    Mr. DEVINCENZI. Are you speaking of the Oakland airport, sir?

    Mr. OBERSTAR. The Oakland flight service station; not the airport, the flight service station.

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    Mr. DEVINCENZI. Okay. I don't know if they have an ASOS down there or not. The proposal has the ASOS in Arcata reporting to the Oakland flight service station, who then disseminates that information out.

    Mr. OBERSTAR. What's the distance from Eureka to Oakland?

    Mayor FLEMMING. Three hundred miles.

    Mr. OBERSTAR. Flight miles.

    Mr. DEVINCENZI. Three hundred miles, sir.

    Mr. OBERSTAR. Three hundred miles. Even if they had TDWR, it wouldn't reach, wouldn't benefit you.

    Mr. DEVINCENZI. Oh, no. No, not at all.

    Mr. OBERSTAR. What equipment do you have—weather or other reporting equipment do you have at Eureka—besides eyes and ears?

    Mr. DEVINCENZI. Well, currently we have a weather observer who is taking man-made observations while the ASOS is being readied for approval.

    Mr. OBERSTAR. Does he send up balloons twice a day?

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    Mr. DEVINCENZI. No, I don't think so.

    Mr. OBERSTAR. No—some of them do. In northern Minnesota they do. They send up balloons with the data recorders on them, and they get information at various altitudes. But you don't have that?

    Mr. DEVINCENZI. Not at the airport, sir.

    Mr. OBERSTAR. That's not very helpful.

    Mr. DEVINCENZI. That's why we're here, sir.

    Mr. OBERSTAR. You can—if I understand, Eureka is close to the water, and you can frequent weather changes. You can have the colder ocean air moving into the warmer land and producing instant fog, and dissipating just as quickly.

    Mayor FLEMMING. The airport is on an exquisite coastal bluff looking over the ocean. It's absolutely gorgeous when the fog is not there. But even as we sat on the tarmac—actually, as we walked out to the airplane—the sun broke through, and yet we had to stay on the tarmac for over a half-hour——

    Mr. OBERSTAR. Because Oakland wasn't aware that the fog had dissipated, and, therefore, was unwilling to give you clearance.

    Mayor FLEMMING. Didn't respond—so half the plane missed their connections, yes.
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    Mr. OBERSTAR. And what wonderful things is FAA proposing for Eureka for the future?

    Mr. HUNTER. They kept quoting ''equal of better service,'' sir. In all of our hearings, they said, ''we will provide you equal or better service,'' and we haven't seen it.

    Mr. OBERSTAR. You see, I think the ''equal or better service'' depends on your weather. If you have fairly stable weather conditions——

    Mayor FLEMMING. Exactly.

    Mr. OBERSTAR. ——then the FAA can promise you equal or better service, but if you have highly variable weather conditions, they cannot make and stand by and sustain that commitment. Furthermore, even where they've succeeded in consolidating the weather reporting systems into an automated flight service center, the technology that was installed in those centers 10 years ago has not been updated and is inadequate for current times.

    I have been in flight service stations, plugged in with controllers, listening to communications—DC 10 overhead asking about weather, and the controller has had to say, ''We can't handle your request, sir; please call on to the next en route center and ask them. We're too busy dealing with general aviation and corporate jets and commuter service to respond to your request.''

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    These are commercial-scheduled service, and they're looking for information en route. Because they don't have high-speed equipment, they can't respond to those requests. They're overloaded. They don't have enough equipment to keep up with the demands of aviation. So, eliminating the equipment at a facility like yours, and then moving further down the line, eliminating weather observers, leaves you terribly vulnerable.

    Mayor FLEMMING. Yes, in danger.

    Mr. OBERSTAR. If I may be permitted, Mr. Chairman, just an observation—that in the dawn years of civil aviation, in the 1920s, when the U.S. Postal Service was the stimulator of commercial air service and let postal contracts to independent bidders, there was an enterprising fellow named Frank Knight, who had a contract to fly airmail from Kansas City to Chicago. And he was frustrated that he couldn't do it at night, and so he set out on one of those evenings when he couldn't fly—one of the days he couldn't fly—to set up a night system.

    And he drove and stopped at farm houses all along the route, and asked the farmers to light a bonfire at a certain set time when he would be flying overhead. Then, when he completed his journey to Chicago, turned back, went to Kansas City and took off a few days later, and at the appointed time each farm lit a bonfire. And he made the first night flight.

    Mayor FLEMMING. Brilliant.

    Mr. OBERSTAR. Now the same thing was done with a fellow who initiated—who was the first president of TWA, and he was flying spare parts for Henry Ford from Detroit to Chicago. And on a day when he couldn't fly, he set out and stopped at each Ford dealership along the route and asked them to get out in the morning and in the late afternoon and look at the weather, and told them what ''socked-in'' would mean and what low visibility would mean. He gave them three categories of weather and said, ''You send me a telegram in the morning and in the afternoon.'' And then he turned around and went back to Detroit. That was the start of the National Weather Service—observers who would stick their heads outside and look at the weather conditions.
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    Now that's what you're reduced to, and you're not even going to have that if they pull out this last observer.

    Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

    Mr. DUNCAN. [presiding] Thank you very much, Mr. Oberstar. Dr. Ehlers.

    Mr. EHLERS. I'm sorry, Mr. Chairman; I was pre-occupied with the bells going off.

    Mr. DUNCAN. That's all right.

    Mr. EHLERS. A simple comment, Mr. Chairman. I used to live in California, in the San Francisco Bay area, and they are, of course, notorious for the fog which rolls in every afternoon. Fortunately, it's high enough above the airport so they can take off.

    I have also been at this airport and fully understand the problem. I think they have a legitimate concern, and I think we should take into account their concern. I haven't flown into the airport——

    Mayor FLEMMING. It's a little tough this week.

    Mr. EHLERS. The other question would be, could you find a better location for the airport? If you go over the first range of mountains, you should be able to stay out of the fog.
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    Mayor FLEMMING. You've heard the familiar budget constraint issue.

    Mr. EHLERS. Yes, all right; thank you. But it appears to me they have a legitimate concern and should be listened to. Thank you.

    Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Dr. Ehlers. Mr. Boswell.

    Mr. Johnson.

    Mr. Cook.

    Mr. COOK. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'm wondering if any of you could give me the names of some of the flight service stations that have been closed that have characteristics that are similar, maybe not quite as dramatic, but can you give us the names of one or two that would be? I know that's unique. I've heard the discussion on that, but can you give us names of ones that are more like Eureka than, say, Bakersfield, for example?

    Mayor FLEMMING. Yes, well, any coastal city. I think a great deal of this, and this is part of what this bill is proposing, is that coastal cities have completely different weather patterns and constraints than inland cities. It's completely different weather patterns. But a pilot might answer that better.

    Mr. HUNTER. Yes, sir; I think several years ago there were flight service stations—I'm going to try to go up from Oakland and see if I can remember them all. There was a flight service station in Ukiah, which is inland, and that is about 100 miles south of the Eureka-Arcata area, in air miles; then there was Arcata; then moving up, there was Crescent City, which is 90 miles north of Eureka; then there was North Bend—that's another 90 to 100 miles north of Crescent City on the Oregon coast.
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    And then north of that, right on the Oregon-Washington border, there was Astoria, and all of those had been closed down. And I don't know, North Bend was closed down several years ago; I don't have the date. But the frightening thing about this was brought up earlier, that with the closure of this flight service station, now the distance between Oakland and McMinnville, which is a suburb of Portland, Oregon, is about 700 or 800 miles. That's a long space of land without any advisory service at all.

    Mr. COOK. But as far as you know, neither the community or council or mayor—officials of those towns—have made similar statements or requests, in terms of their closures?

    Mr. HUNTER. I know the gentleman from Ukiah appeared before Congressman Riggs and Congressman Duncan in Eureka. I do also know that there is no longer any commercial service in or out of North Bend, and I attribute that to the closure of the flight service station.

    Mayor FLEMMING. Absolutely. And we're a regional hub for all of these transportation needs in the entire region.

    Mr. COOK. Now if I could make sure I understand what your testimony really is. There's a difference between believing something could be safer than it now is, but I thought it was interesting—our colleague from Minnesota, Mr. Oberstar, talking about maybe additional scientific equipment that could be put in place to augment the automated system that's apparently now been in place for a week.
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    Mayor FLEMMING. It's not——

    Mr. COOK. I guess what I'm asking for is, would you take the position—as the mayor of the town—that if Mr. Riggs' legislation does not pass, it will be too unsafe to fly in, or just wouldn't be quite as safe to fly in to Eureka?

    Mayor FLEMMING. That's a ghastly scenario, actually. I'm really concerned that there will be a tragedy. However we will——

    Mr. COOK. So you would say it's too unsafe to operate.

    Mayor FLEMMING. I'm afraid so. We have to find an answer of some sort. It is far too unsafe.

    Mr. HUNTER. Sir, if I could comment on that. I, as a pilot of a single-engine aircraft, I don't think at this point, knowing what I've already seen in the last week, I don't think that I would fly in IFR conditions into our area. I would deem it too unsafe for me and the people that I fly with. I would fly in clear weather only.

    Mayor FLEMMING. And then the possibility of the loss of commercial airlines that serve the region would be devastating to the economy. We have universities; we have the college; we have hospitals; we have a heart center—all of these. All of the planes are full every day, all flights, in and out of that airport. We need more services, not less.
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    Mr. DEVINCENZI. Sir, I might say that as far as the United Express flights go in the commercial aviation sector, all of the flights that arrive and depart from Arcata will be just as safe as they were before the flight service station closed. However, there won't nearly be as many of them. We will have to cancel or divert flights, rather than test the unsafety of the airport.

    Mr. COOK. I see. Okay, thank you.

    Mr. DUNCAN. Mrs. Millender-McDonald.

    Mrs. MILLENDER-MCDONALD. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I suppose—again, being the lone Californian on this subcommittee, I certainly want to reiterate the importance of our re-thinking the closure of this flight service station. I have been to Eureka. I know it sits way up high, very close to the Oregon border. It is rugged terrain, very inclement weather that changes hourly, and I think it is important and incumbent upon us to re-think this issue.

    Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman.

    Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much. I apologize to the witnesses. We do have a vote going on right now, and we'll have to break, but we'll make it as short as possible. And we will be in recess at this time.

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    Mr. DUNCAN. I think what we're going to do at this time is call up the second panel then some of the other members will come back and if they have any additional questions of the first panel then we'll ask that they come back forward. I do want to thank Mayor Flemming and Mr. Hunter and Mr. DeVincenzi for their testimony and their response to the questions thus far.

    Next, we want to call forward Panel No. 2, Mr. Ronald E. Morgan, who is director of air traffic for the Federal Aviation Administration; Mr. Phil Boyer, who is president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association; and Mr. Walter W. Pike, who is chief executive officer of the National Association of Air Traffic Specialists.

    Once again, the way we generally proceed with the testimony is the order listed on the notice of hearing, and that means Mr. Morgan that you may begin your testimony for the record please.


    Mr. MORGAN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Chairman Duncan and members of the subcommittee, good afternoon. My name is Ronald E. Morgan. I am the director of air traffic at the Federal Aviation Administration. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss FAA's national program to modernize the flight service stations. I'd like to submit my full statement for the record, sir, and I have an abbreviated statement for you.
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    Mr. DUNCAN. That's fine, your full statement will be included in the record.

    Mr. MORGAN. Thank you very much.

    First of all, I'd like to add that I am a native Californian. I've spent almost three-quarters of my life in California. I'm also a pilot with about 2500 hours and have flown into the Arcata airport.

    The FSS modernization program is part of the FAA's mission to enhance safety and improve the quality of services to the aviation community and to do so in the most cost-effective manner possible. For over a decade, the FAA has been implementing a plan to upgrade and consolidate flight services into larger, more modern automated flight service stations. These consolidated flight service stations provide pilots with, among other things, important aeronautical and weather information.

    Under this program, the FAA has consolidated 304 of the original 318 flight service stations located throughout the United States into 61 larger, more technologically advanced, and more productive automated flight service stations. All 61 AFSS's are now operating and as of midnight last night, with the closure of the two flight service stations in North Carolina, no flight service stations remain open in the continental United States. There are 14 FSS's still operating in Alaska.

    The 61 automated flight service stations are staffed with FAA employees, who provide a number of services, including providing pilots with important weather and aeronautical information, and pre-flight and in-flight briefings regarding flight conditions. With the establishment of AFSS's throughout the country, pilots are being provided with improved weather services, such as enhanced weather graphics and next-generation weather radar images throughout computer links at no cost to the pilots.
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    Pre-flight and in-flight weather briefings to the pilot are conducted over toll free telephone lines to the AFSS assigned responsibility for that area. If demand in one area ties up the communication to one AFSS, responses can be handled by another AFSS because personnel can access weather and operational information for the entire system. In addition, the next generation computer system for AFSS's, known as the operational and supportability implementation system, or OASIS for short, in the new integrated communications switching system, will soon be available. Contained in this new system is the capability for pilots to receive weather and aeronautical information and file flight plans via home personal computer while talking directly to the AFSS specialist. This takes advantage of some of the computer technology that's being developed today. In addition to these service improvements, we estimate that the modernization program has saved $270 million over 16 years from the reduced staffing and reduced building lease and maintenance costs.

    I know the subcommittee is particularly interested in the decommissioning of the Arcata FSS, which was closed on September 24. The earlier witnesses here today from Arcata community have described their concerns about the closure. We have taken several steps to address these issues that have been raised here and at the July congressional roundtable discussion in Arcata that you, Mr. Chairman, and Congressman Riggs, sponsored. One of the major concerns about the Arcata closure was how weather operations would be taken and provided to pilots. Arcata experiences foggy conditions frequently due to its coastal location and we've heard that a number of times this afternoon. Although an automated surface observing system or an ASOS for short, has been installed in Arcata, it is not yet commissioned for operation and will not until it is fully operational and proven reliable. Moreover, the FAA will maintain a qualified human weather observer at Arcata until the ASOS issues have been resolved.
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    In addition, we have made several improvements to the facilities at the Arcata Airport, including installation of pilot controlled lighting for runway, better communications via newly installed remote communication air ground frequencies, enabling pilots to obtain air traffic clearances directly from the Seattle air route traffic control center. Also, real-time runway visual range information on the ground level visibility will be provided directly to the Seattle center to the controllers through newly established telephone lines.

    Finally, the FAA recently commissioned the Rainbow Ridge air route surveillance radar, known as a ARSR-4, located 45 miles south of Arcata, which allows controllers to monitor aircraft on instrument approaches to Arcata, nearly to the ground.

    We believe that time and experience will show the aviation community of Arcata that the services provided to them by the Oakland AFSS are equal or better than the services previously provided by the Arcata FSS. This was our goal for the entire modernization program. Modernize and consolidate these facilities and still provide equal or better service to the aviation community. Over the past decade, I believe we have achieved this goal.

    Mr. Chairman, the FAA's number one mission is protecting and enhancing public safety. We study, evaluate and make our decisions for all our programs in that context. As a result, this country has a strong record of achievement in aviation safety. Our challenge now is to make our skies even safer in the face of dynamic industry growth and modernization of the Nation's airspace system, in a timely, cost-effective way. The program to modernize our flight service stations is a key component of that effort. We have improved services while attaining greater cost efficiencies. However, we know it's not perfect and we will continue to evaluate and improve our technology, particularly with regard to ASOS. Most importantly, we will retain human weather observers in places like Arcata, until we are sure that the system is performing the way we want it to.
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    That concludes my remarks, Mr. Chairman, and I would be happy to answer any questions.

    Mr. DUNCAN. Well, thank you very much, Mr. Morgan. We certainly appreciate your being here with us today. Our next witness, Mr. Phil Boyer, has been here frequently and has been a very effective and articulate witness on many different subjects and, Mr. Boyer, it's a privilege to have you with us again.

    Mr. BOYER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'm going to let our written remarks be entered into the record and I'm just going to give you some observations on this particular issue, like some of the others on the previous panel, from a pilot's perspective. As you know, AOPA Legislative Action represents about 340,000 pilots in the United States; more than 55 percent of all licensed pilots; more than 45,000 of them live in California. As a matter of fact, I learned to fly just in one of the cities that was mentioned earlier, Sacramento, and used Eureka for and Arcata Airport as a place to practice my instrument work because of the unique fog conditions.

    I think one of the things we should realize is we are talking about the modernization program for flight service stations. If Mr. Oberstar were here, I think he holds the corporate conscience for this committee, over the years since 1980 almost—the grueling years of putting this together—in our written testimony, as does others, alludes to the trials and tribulations of saving this kind of money for the American public and modernizing a system. We've been a part of that process, protecting those very precious words, ''equal or better service.'' Our concern here is this airport, unique, like airports that we singled out in Alaska, those 14 airports—is this airport special in the united, still lower, 48, that we should treat it in a different manner, and AOPA's opinion is that it is representing those members. Weather, our Air Safety Foundation reports, is the cause of 40 percent of all fatal accidents. Visibility, that associated with fog or in Indonesia a long ways away; smoke could be another one of the reasons that we are so protective about weather service at airports such as this. As a matter of fact, one of the greatest causes is flying in clear weather and suddenly being in a fog bank; exactly what happens at Arcata, California.
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    A lot of mention has been made of the automated surface observation system. We could probably hold several hearings, perhaps some would be in the Commerce Department, because in many cases this is governed by the National Weather Service, but the FAA is under increasing pressure to assume the operation and maintenance of these units. It's interesting to note that this technology, while very good in some respects, only measures a sliver of the sky above the airport and, something that hasn't been mentioned earlier, it measures it on an averaging basis. That is, since it only is looking at a small sliver of the sky or the prevailing visibility or the visibility, it has to average it so that in many cases what you heard when the sky turns clear, the ASOS will not be reporting that immediately. As a matter of fact, mentioning Alaska again, I was there last month. I visited two of those fourteen stations that we kept open, and I must tell you, they've had to come up with some special rules on stations that have automated equipment. The airline didn't tell you earlier, that they're under rules different than those of private pilots. They must have a certain runway visual range or visibility reported before they can commence an instrument approach and that's why they are so concerned that they will reduce their flights at Arcata. Back to Alaska for a moment, Alaska Airlines would look down at airports, in the clear, and listen to the ASOS on their frequency, which was reporting weather below minimums and therefore, could not shoot the approach. Subsequently, they have changed the regulations there, I think, allowing them to make this kind of approach. We don't want to see that happen in a community as rich with culture, history and also beauty as Humboldt County.

    In addition, I might state that the Air Safety Foundation, our sister organization, has just completed a research study on the automated system. This research study is interesting because it was done, not of just AOPA members, but all those in the area of new ASOS installations. Fifty percent from this survey claimed that the ceiling and the visibility were the least accurate measurements by the automated equipment. Let's look at it in another way. When we asked, ''What are the inaccuracies of the ASOS, in your opinion,'' 82 percent said ceiling, 65 percent said visibility, and only 15 percent said wind direction. So, as you can see, the kind of unique weather we're dealing with in California, Northern California on the coast, is exactly where this automated equipment does not do well. We support the retention of what appears to be a very unique flight service station, realizing that if we've done this in our 49th State for operational and weather reasons, there's no reason that just because we have a plan, and we're working that plan, extremely well and it has served us well, that we should not look at the unique operating conditions here.
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    In closing, I guess I'd like to refer to this as one of the many modernization programs that this committee and other committees are going to be looking at in the future. It's good that we have this dialogue; it's good that we can make these mid-course corrections, or at this case, perhaps 11th hour corrections, because we're looking at far more modernization programs the FAA wants to undertake. We'll discuss one tomorrow as a matter of fact. It's very important that Congress stays in the loop on these programs rather than allowing the FAA to be funded in a manner in which fees would flow directly to them and they're in charge of their own destiny without your oversight on this committee.

    Is Arcata unique? We believe so. More importantly, our pilot members believe so.

    Thank you.

    Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Boyer. Next we'll hear from Mr. Walter W. Pike, chief executive officer for the National Association of Air Traffic Specialists. Mr. Pike?

    Mr. PIKE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'm Walter Pike, chief executive officer of the National Association of Air Traffic Specialists, NAATS, which represents employees at the FAA's network of flight service stations throughout the United States. On behalf of the men and women who serve commercial, military, and non-commercial aviation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, I want to thank you for the foresight you have shown in convening this hearing. I sincerely appreciate this opportunity to appear before you to discuss the FAA's program to close and consolidate flight service stations and to comment on H.R. 1454, The Community Flight Safety Act of 1997, which would prohibit the FAA from completing additional closures.
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    Rather than summarize my entire prepared statement, I want to focus on two main points: First, the overwhelming need for the FAA to reverse the downsizing of the flight service station personnel; and second, the unintended consequences of H.R. 1454, as introduced. The FAA has told us that it will not hire another new employee into flight service from outside the air traffic division of the agency for at least 3 years. In addition, there have been virtually no new hires in the flight service for more than 10 years. This is tantamount to a decision to terminate our vital safety service, a decision we do not believe is in the best interest of aviation safety, nor is it one complying with congressional intent. The FAA tells us that it must put these plans into place because Congress has not given it the resources necessary to meet demand. Yet, the agency has not asked you and your colleagues in recent years for the additional resources necessary to ensure adequate staffing. As a result, each and every AFSS and automated AFSS in the country is short-staffed, with employees being asked to work long shifts, forego vacations and minimize legitimate sick leave usage. This is the situation today. Tomorrow may be much, much worse. Right now 1,157 of the flight service controller workforce are eligible for early retirement, with another 257 meeting the criteria for optional retirement. This means that of the approximately 2,400 full time workers assigned to flight service more than half are able to leave their jobs for good; and this figure does not include those who will leave their post through natural attrition. Additionally, between the PATCO strike in August 1981 and December 1995, the FAA lost almost 1,000 flight service controllers.

    During that same time period, the number of flight service management, supervisory and other personnel decreased by only six individuals. We find it hard to believe that the agencies numerous management reforms during that time forced it to keep an average of more than one manager and support person for each flight service controller.
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    As a result, we respectfully request that Congress should insist that the FAA properly staff flight service facilities around the country. We strongly urge you and your colleagues to require the FAA to hire, train and place 100 new flight service controllers during Fiscal Year 1998, and an additional 100 in each of the following three fiscal years.

    Turning to the Community Flight Safety Act of 1997, I first want to congratulate Congressman Riggs for his long term interest in and concern over the plight of flight service stations throughout the country. However, we must reluctantly oppose the bill since it would exacerbate the staffing shortages at flight service stations throughout the country and irreparably damage aviation safety on a national basis, not just in northern California. In addition, we are concerned that the bill would create some unintended consequences if it became law. As written, H.R. 1454 could well force the closure of automated flight service stations not meeting its criteria. Of course, since the bill was introduced, the last remaining non-automated flight service stations, Yukia and Arcata, California; Pierce, South Dakota; and Hickory and Newpern, North Carolina have closed. As written then, this bill would necessarily target the 61 AFSS's.

    While we have not mapped the exact location of all remaining AFSS's facilities in the continental United States, the list would most certainly include several AFSS's of interest to members of this subcommittee, including both AFSS's located in Tennessee, possibly the Kankakee, Illinois AFSS; the Altoona and Williamsport sites in Pennsylvania; and one in Princeton, Minnesota; plus those serving areas subject to weather-producing phenomenon from mountains, industrial facilities and large bodies of water not named in the bill.

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    These brief examples are not provided to criticize Congressman Riggs or his efforts on behalf of flight service, but only to point out the serious, unintended consequences of the bill. Rather, we have a great deal of respect for Congressman Riggs, his longstanding dedication to aviation safety and to flight service. In fact, representatives of NAATS met with Congressman Riggs within a week of his introducing H.R. 1454 and we continue to be available to work with him and with this subcommittee to find solutions to these problems while preserving and enhancing aviation safety.

    We would thoroughly enjoy having the necessary personnel available to take the weather observations throughout the country and provide the airport advisory service to the flying public in places like Arcata. Unfortunately, that's not the situation today. As this subcommittee begins to focus on next year's efforts to reauthorize the FAA and its' programs, we hope that the issues we have discussed today will be part of that discussion and that you will call on us as we both look for the appropriate solutions.

    In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, thank you again for the opportunity to present this statement. I will be pleased to respond to any questions you and the subcommittee may have.

    Mr. DUNCAN. Well, thank you very much, Mr. Pike. I'm going to go first for questions to Mr. Riggs, but I will say this in case anybody listening has some misimpression. You mentioned in your testimony about somebody saying that Congress had not been providing the funds for the FAA. You know, there's a lot of false publicity out here about cuts because Federal spending is still going way up every year and we've just finished giving the FAA their largest increase ever, I believe, over $9.1 billion. I'm sure that no agency or department ever gets everything that they would want, and I think everybody on this subcommittee supports increasing funding for the FAA because air traffic is going way up. I don't want anybody to have the impression that we're sitting up here cutting the FAA or not providing them with a good level of funding when we're doing the best that is ever been done and that I think needs to be said, at least for the record.
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    Mr. Riggs?

    Mr. RIGGS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Morgan and Mr. Pike, Mr. Boyer of AOPA testified that he thought the unique weather conditions at Eureka-Arcata Airport warranted keeping the flight service station open. Just taking into consideration for a moment weather conditions, do you two gentlemen think that the unique weather conditions there warrant keeping the flight service station open, or as the case may be, since Mr. Boyer was talking about the 11th hour and I think we're now in the 13th hour, reopening the flight service station. If you don't, would you briefly explain why you think these weather conditions—again, as I recall, 264 days of IFR flying conditions and only 101 days of VFR flying conditions per year—why you think these weather conditions are less severe than Alaska? Mr. Morgan first, please.

    Mr. MORGAN. Well, Congressman Riggs, thank you for the question. First of all, the weather conditions in Arcata are very, very difficult for any technology that's available today, any automated technology. For that reason, we made a commitment to you and to this committee and to the community of Arcata to keep human observers in the loop until such time that we resolve any difficulties with that automated technology. The observers, the contract weather observers that are performing that service today, perform the same job that was performed two weeks ago by the flight service station personnel in observation of weather. They use the same equipment that the flight service station personnel use, and the only difference at this particular point that I am aware of, is that they are totally dedicated 24 hours a day to do weather services as compared to doing weather services and other flight service station duties. One could make a case that their awareness and their job involvement is much higher today than it was two weeks ago when other duties were assigned to a flight service station specialist.
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    Mr. RIGGS. We could have very lively debate along those lines, Mr. Morgan, because I profoundly disagree, and I'm sorry to be abrupt because I have a lot of ground I want to cover in a very short period of time, in deference to the Chairman and my colleagues. Do you think the weather is less severe at Eureka-Arcata than in Alaska?

    Mr. MORGAN. Sir, there are certain locations that it probably is less severe. There are other locations in Alaska, if we're talking about the 14 FSS's that I'm aware of, where it's not.

    Mr. RIGGS. Mr. Pike?

    Mr. PIKE. I think, in our analysis, Arcata does have unique weather conditions. Ours is, regrettably, the choice between two bad alternatives. The staffing issue nationwide is critical to us, Oakland automated flight service station is critically staffed, they need the people.

    Mr. RIGGS. Mr. Pike, I also appreciate your comments and your willingness to work with us on the legislation. I realize now that the whole tense of the bill has to be changed because we're speaking, unfortunately again, after the fact. I'm also willing to stipulate that with a one word change to my colleagues, we could make the legislation apply only in those geographic areas that are within 50 miles of a continental United States coastline and where pilots have to operate on average a certain number of days—I think our bill says 180 days during the calendar year—again, under IFR conditions. I do appreciate your offer, Mr. Pike. However, I have in my hand here a press release dated November 22, 1996, sent out by your association after the accident in Quincy, Illinois, and I quote from the press release, ''The tragic runway collision in Quincy, Illinois, on November 19, might not have occurred if the flight service station, once located at the airport, had not been closed in 1989.'' In a sense, I get a very real dread, for lack of a better word, or apprehension, that we have a timebomb ticking away there. Unfortunately, for all of us, who fly in and out—and I'm not looking for personal sympathy from my colleagues but I do want to point out that I have to use this airport as part of my congressional duties—it worries me a little bit and worries my family. The press release goes on to say, and again, this is your association, Mr. Pike, it quotes the NAATS executive director, Gary Sims as saying, ''When the Quincy FSS was open all aircraft approaching were required to contact the FSS by radio on a specified frequency''—now remember those words, because I'm going to come back to them in just a moment—''specified frequency and report their position and intention. Once they called in, ''incoming traffic was provided with information on all traffic reported and observed at the airport by the flight service station. The Quincy FSS, he noted, was physically located with a panoramic view of the entire airport''—very similar to our flight service station at Eureka-Arcata Airport, which just closed—''and could easily have observed the ground traffic in time to warn the United Express flight. This almost certainly would have prevented the tragic consequences which ensued'' according to Sims. Now bear that in mind, and with the chairman's permission, I'm going to introduce at this point in time and submit for the record, an unsatisfactory condition report. Mr. Morgan, I very specifically direct your attention to this report, because it was filed with your agency by James Bernard, air traffic control specialist at the Eureka-Arcata flight service station, September 25, 1997. Last week, the day after the flight service station closed.
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    To sum up his report, this actually is on, I guess this is a standard form used in the aviation community, used by your agency. Excuse me just a moment here. But in his report, and I summarize, he says, as of September 24, 1997, pilots are now required to switch between five different frequencies to gather necessary flight information and coordinate arrivals and departures. All of which used to be accomplished on one frequency. Go back to the NAATS press release talking about a specified single frequency, ''often these frequency changes are required during the critical phase of flight, dramatically increasing the pilot's workload''—and I think Mr. Boyer would probably agree with this—''this new procedure at the Eureka-Arcata Airport creates a situation often referred to in NTSB accident reports as ''The pilot being distracted by cockpit duties and failing in his primary responsibility to see and avoid other air traffic.''

    Refer to NTSB accident report of July 1, 1997, Runway Collision, United Express Flight 5925 and Beach King Air at Quincy Municipal Airport, Quincy, Illinois, November 19, 1996. Then right after that, Mr. Morgan, your agency sends out an advisory to pilots, Letter to Pilots. In it, it states,''As pilots you have been trained to see and avoid and there is no need to remind you of that duty. We need to take stock of our traffic scanning and radio communication techniques, particularly when operating at non-towered airports.''

    So, gentlemen, I submit, we do have a problem here. We've gone from the specified frequency to five different frequencies, we have, I think, very clear evidence of radio communications breaking down, problems with runway lights. The flight service station also used to give directions to aircraft once they were on the ground and taxiing back to the terminal. We have a 6,000 foot main runway there, at Eureka-Arcata Airport, which means that aircraft which have landed and are taxiing back to the terminal are up to a mile away from the terminal Quoting another report here from a gentleman who wished to remain anonymous who sent a copy to me and the Eureka Chamber of Commerce, ''I've seen aircraft get thoroughly lost in the fog, particularly at night, and they were guided safely by the flight service station.'' That is no longer happening. We have aircraft wandering around lost.
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    My advice to the travelling public is to schedule your flights in the daylight hours. Even with fog, you have a better chance of getting home safely. Night flights in the fog are almost certainly likely to be cancelled, which I think we heard from Mr. DeVincenzi in a way because commercial pilots are not going to take any added risk and he says it's happening already.

    So, Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you again for convening the hearing. I don't know if any of the witnesses want to respond to what I just said, because I covered a lot of ground, I realize we have a vote on, but I do want to commend NAATS for looking at this situation, certainly the Pilot's Association and all I could do is, again as I have on many occasions previously, implored the FAA to reconsider this particular policy. There is no value that you can assign to human life as you do some sort of cost benefit analysis here in the process of modernization. I do think again, the weather is so unique that it warrants, as the flight service stations in Alaska, remaining open with that manned human weather observation capacity.

    Mr. DUNCAN. Well, thank you very much, Mr. Riggs. We do have a vote going on. Mr. Cummings, do you have any questions, very quickly?

    Mr. CUMMINGS. No, Mr. Chairman, on this one I'd be very supportive of Mr. Riggs. I'm concerned too about safety and that's all I'd have to say. Thank you.

    Mr. DUNCAN. All right, thank you very much. Dr. Cooksey?

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    Mr. COOKSEY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Let me ask, does one of your FBO's have a DUAT system there?

    Mr. MORGAN. Well, sir, DUAT's is available to all pilots through a telephone capability. If you mean a DUAT station at an FBO, I would not be the best to answer that and I can't answer that.

    Mr. COOKSEY. We lost our flight service station; that's what we use and it works, it's really a pretty good method and it's a good system—it's computerized, it's current and so forth.

    For those that are here testifying, Congressman Frank Riggs is a good member that we want to get in and out of that airport, we want to make sure that he stays up here because he does a great job and he's very responsible, so I want the airport to be safe. I'm impressed with your mayor; she's a lot prettier than the mayor of Washington and we're glad to have her here, too. But, the thing that I'd think you'd hold out for the future is that when you get a GPS system there, wouldn't they be able to land there, Mr. Morgan?

    Mr. MORGAN. Sir, the GPS capability is there, but none of the navigational aids, prior to the flight service station, or after the flight service closing, have changed. The ILS system is still in place, there have been some enhancements, in fact, the long range radar that's up on a hill by Arcata, now gives coverage to about 400 foot above the ground level, which is a new capability that was not there before.

    Mr. COOKSEY. What about an enhanced GPS system, wouldn't that give you the system—we're going to hear testimony on that tomorrow, I understand—and with that it should bring you right down to the runway, even in fog.
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    Mr. MORGAN. Yes, sir, that gives you enhanced capability if we're talking about the wide-area augmentation system. It would give you enhanced capability, precision capability, all around the airport where you might be able to make precision approaches to a number of runways.

    Mr. COOKSEY. And better than the ILS or anything we've got now, I would think.

    Mr. MORGAN. Yes, sir.

    Mr. COOKSEY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

    Mr. DUNCAN. Well, thank you very much, Dr. Cooksey. Mr. Lipinski?

    Mr. LIPINSKI. Mr. Chairman, I really have no questions of this panel, particularly because I've spoken to some of the gentlemen individually, and we have a vote on, so I'm going to pass it back to you.

    Mr. DUNCAN. Well, thank you very much. The staff did provide me with the actual funding levels I mentioned a little earlier and I was a little bit low. The funding for the FAA went from $8.2 billion to $9.3 billion, a 1.109 billion increase. I don't think any agency, other than the INS, got that large of an increase, but obviously, there are debates over how that money is divided up or spent. I think the FAA does a very good job, but I just don't want people to think that we're up here cutting them when we're not.
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    Mr. MORGAN. Mr. Chairman, we really appreciate this committee's support and it is our intent to use every dollar of that money that's allocated as wisely as we can. We thank you.

    Mr. DUNCAN. Well, I wonder, you know, how much is being saved here when your still having an in person weather observer in the other system that you were talking about 45 miles away and certain other things, but you know sometimes, one size does not fit all and maybe that's the situation here. We'll proceed further with this, but because of the vote we're not going to delay you all anymore.

    So, thank you very much for being with us. This has been a very fine hearing and we will be adjourned.

    [Whereupon, at 3:48 p.m., the subcommittee adjourned subject to the call of the Chair.]

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