Before a packed house of mostly pilots, the Port of Bremerton board of commissioners approved the 2014 budget without funding a new weather forecast system.
But prior to approving the budget, the commissioners added a statement that the port “will strive to improve the weather reporting system at the Bremerton National Airport to include a terminal area forecast (TAF).”
The amendment clarified that the port is currently working with the FAA to upgrade the current system to accomplish this and if that cannot be accomplished, the port will look at alternative weather systems which may require a budget amendment at that time.
That action followed a public hearing on the budget during which several pilots spoke and asked that the commissioners replace the $145,000 that was earlier in the budget for the new TAF system.
Bremerton Pilots Association President Jim Posner said he thinks the current system is inaccurate and doesn’t provide pilots with enough information.
“I don’t want to start a war,” he said. “I just want to get a specific project done. The current system is not doing its job.”
Posner’s comments were a reaction to board chair Larry Stokes, who began the public hearing by saying he had spent most of the day studying the issue after received more than 20 emails in the past three days from pilots who were angry that the item had been cut from the budget. It was in the first preliminary budget document.
“I don’t want this to be the port against the pilots or the pilots against the port,” Stokes said. “The only way that we can accomplish something is if we work together.”
Commissioner Axel Strakeljahn told the pilots that he was unhappy that the pilots were coming forward at the 11th hour.
“We’ve been working on this budget for the past 90 days,” he said. “Not a single one of you have been to our budget meetings. I wish we’d had your input earlier.”
But Posner said he’d been working with port staff for more than a year, trying to get the system upgraded. Posner said inaccurate weather reports are a nuisance and a safety concern for pilots. An upgrade would allow meteorologists to use data from the system to create an airport-specific weather forecast.
But Fred Salisbury, director of airport operations, told commissioners, that the current system which is approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, is not unsafe. He said because the system is maintained by the FAA, the port can’t just drop it and add something new. The old system needs to be decommissioned by the FAA. Until that happens, the port has to maintain the current beacon.
And he said anytime there are visibility readings that are not correct, the FAA has been very responsive to come to the airport and do maintenance on the system. He said pilots need to report the inaccurate data so that the FAA can respond.
He also said an upgrade of the current system is in the works and pilots need to be patient.
Commissioners said with the statement added to the budget document, that allows them to be able to work with the FAA to see if the current system can be improved and if not, have it decommissioned so that a new TAF system can be put in its place.
“Delaying it doesn’t send a good message to the pilots we’re trying to attract to the airport,” said Commissioner Roger Zabinski. “But if the FAA says the current system is working, I’m not sure what we can do at this point.”
Posner said the airport is rapidly becoming the “laughing stock of the local piloting community.”
Another pilot said the current system “was like working with an old FAX machine when everyone else was using email.”
To that, Stokes asked that the pilots work with the port and stop “saying that our airport is unsafe. That will affect our customers.”
The vote to approve the budget, with the stipulation that an amendment regarding a weather system upgrade at a later date, means the port will operate in 2014 with a budget of $14.5 million. Maintenance and operations costs are listed at $5.2 million and capital expenses are at $8.8 million. The budget was approved without any increase in the local property tax levy that supports port operations.