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System a gamechanger for pilots

Automated weather at airport

by: Photo by Holly M. Gill - Larry Sims regularly uses the new automated weather system to fly into the Madras Municipal Airport.

When Larry Sims, who lives near the Lake Billy Chinook Airport, wants to make the five-minute flight to Madras, one simple call gives him all the information he needs.
   Sims calls the Madras Municipal Airport's new automated weather operation system -- which the pilots call AWOS (ay-woss) -- to obtain all the data he needs, from wind speed to cloud cover.
   "If you're going into a place, it gives you the information you need to know," he said, noting that before the system was installed, he would have to call and connect with someone at the airport before flying over.
   If the weather is suitable, the retired commercial pilot, who moved to Jefferson County about seven months ago, can make the short flight to the Madras airport, where pilots regularly gather for coffee and doughnuts.
   "It's important for safety," said Sims, who has flown for 48 years.
   For Rob Berg, airport manager, the weather system, which became operational March 16, has been a tremendous boon for the airport.
   "We've been fighting for it for years," said Berg earlier this month. "Just the last couple of days have been great with jet traffic -- people coming in to fish the Deschutes River."
   In recent weeks, he said, there have been nearly a dozen people with jets flying in -- from the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, area, San Francisco and Seattle, among other locations.
   "This is a busy time when the salmon fly hatch is on on the Deschutes," said Berg, noting that the air traffic provides an economic boost to the area. "This is a nationally known fishing river, and we get people from all over. They stay in the hotels and eat in the restaurants."
   Berg explained that the large, charter jets are not allowed to fly into airports that don't have automated weather systems.
   "They would have to file for Redmond and then see if the weather's good enough to come up to Madras," he said. "Now they can file directly for Madras."
   The last time the Federal Aviation Administration surveyed the traffic at the airport, a couple years ago, Berg said, they reported 8,500 planes a year -- which averages out to over 23 a day.
   Since that time, "We did see a downturn with the economy, but we're seeing it pick up again -- back to where we were prerecession," he said.
   The AWOS computer at the airport shows the temperature in both Celsius and Fahrenheit, dew point, altimeter, visibility, where the clouds are in the sky, current weather, and whether or not lightning is present.
   "Being able to get the information 24 hours a day, seven days a week is huge for the pilots," said Berg. "They love it."