National Weather Service-run equipment at the Klawock Airport on Prince of Wales Island has been a subject of debate recently.
Federal Aviation Administration rules state that no commercial aircraft can land or take off without the visibility information provided by the equipment.
After a couple of malfunctions, a small airline based in nearby Craig sent a letter out to residents of the island, asking them to contact National Weather Service officials and complain about what the letter refers to as “very outdated equipment.”
Angel Corona is in charge of data acquisition for the National Weather Service in Alaska. In a telephone interview Wednesday from Anchorage, he said that the Automated Surface Observing System at Klawock Airport is not outdated. In fact, he calls it “top of the line.”
“This is the same system that they have sitting at LAX, O’Hare, every one of the ones here in Alaska: Juneau, Ketchikan,” he said. “So, this is not antiquated equipment.”
Corona said all equipment fails at some point, and the system at the Klawock Airport recently experienced two malfunctions in a short time period.
“So, in this instance, yes, the visibility sensor went out a couple of times in a two-week period,” he said. “We went out there, we fixed it, came back, it worked for a while and then on the 12th of April at 10:53 in the morning was the last observation we got, and it actually broke again for a different reason.”
The maintenance staff for all of Southeast Alaska is based in Juneau, and Corona said they responded in a timely manner. They needed to order a special part from Down South, though, which delayed repairs for a couple of days. Corona said it was up and running again by Tuesday.
He said two outages in a two-week period is unfortunate, but a long-term look at the system shows it’s reliable.
“Going all the way back to 1998 when this unit was put in, the up time for this unit is 99.625 percent, which is obviously extremely high,” he said. “The standard for the weather service, which of course everybody exceeds, is 95 percent.”
Corona also notes that while the system was installed in 1998, pretty much all of the parts have been upgraded as technology improves.
“There’s not a single piece on there, except maybe the railing holding the unit up, that’s been there since 1998,” he said.
Corona adds that the equipment in question is owned by the Federal Aviation Administration. The National Weather Service is just in charge of maintenance. Corona said monitoring systems at all airports in Southeast receive routine maintenance at least every 90 days.
The Island Air Express letter estimates that the Klawock Airport serves about 25,000 passengers annually, with about 215 emergency medical flights a year.
Island Air Express owner, Scott Van Valin, did not return calls seeking comment.