Weather station installation eyed

JOHNSTOWN – A long-planned project to bring a weather station to the Fulton County Airport is expected to be completed this fall. But local officials are still working with federal officials on its exact location.

County Administrative Officer Jon Stead recently told the Board of Supervisors’ Finance Committee that a project to install an Automated Weather Observation Station, or AWOS, at the county airport will be done by the end of the year.

He said the estimated $230,000 AWOS is a 2013 project and is part of the county’s current five-year Airport Capital Improvement Plan previously submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA is allocating 90 percent of the cost, while the state Department of Transportation is contributing 5 percent. The county’s share for the project is $11,500 for the other 5 percent.

The county has for some time considered AWOS, which will provide on-site weather information to pilots using the Route 67 airport.

County Planning Director James Mraz said Monday the AWOS will “probably” be installed this fall. He said the county has asked for an FAA waiver on the site. He said the FAA requires AWOS units, which he described as normally a weather-gathering station on a 30-foot tower, to be 500 feet off of a runway.

But Mraz said in the case of the Fulton County Airport, that would put the AWOS near a hill, down an embankment and in a wooded area. Siting it there would drive up the cost, he said.

“We want it a shorter distance from the runway to keep the cost down,” Mraz said.

Mraz said that in addition to the cost of the AWOS unit and the tower, the county would be responsible for other costs associated with installation. Those costs include site work to install it, a concrete foundation, and tree removal per certain FAA requirements.

Mraz has said pilots using the county airport need accurate weather information to land and take off. He said pilots currently try to get information from someone who happens to be at the airport when they radio in. He said AWOS makes the airport more usable, and with no current AWOS system, there is a public safety concern in the county.

Supervisors last June authorized distribution of a request for qualifications, or RFQs, to eight engineering firms to list a qualification statement. County officials in July deemed McFarland Johnson of Binghamton, Broome County, the most qualified to do design work. The firm submitted a proposal to have the county pay a $29,943 fee for its work.

In a recent report given to the Board of Supervisors; Buildings and Grounds-Highway Committee, Mraz said he met with McFarland Johnson April 4 to discuss the AWOS design and review preliminary cost estimates. Mraz also reported he met with county Information Services Director Perry Lovell to discuss options for providing wireless internet access at the airport, related to the AWOS project.