The silent watchman: Weather station keeps pilots, passengers safe at airport

Weather station keeps pilots, passengers safe at airport

Fulton County Senior Planner Sean Geraghty checks out the County Airport's Automated Weather Observation Station. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — Out in the hinterlands of the Fulton County Airport property– beyond the runway, and accessible only by dirt road, stands a strange-looking contraption.

But the tall, obtuse high-tech machine stands watch faithfully, on a day-to-day basis, to potentially save the lives of the pilots utilizing the aviation facility.

Officials say the county’s $240,000 Automated Weather Observation Station, or AWOS, is not some forgotten part of the small community airport off Route 67 and County Highway 153.

“It gets used,” says county Senior Planner Sean Geraghty. “The information is transferred to the National Weather Service.”

More importantly, Geraghty said AWOS is on the job to provide current, accurate and up-to-date weather information for pilots utilizing the airport. Pilots can call up all the current data identified by the Fulton County Airport in Zulu — or Greenwich Mean Time –measurements. Data is updated every few minutes.

The AWOS system — maintained by Stanwyck Avionics of Newburgh, Orange County– measures weather data including: temperature, dewpoint, wet bulb temperature, relative humidity, wind direction, wind speed, wind chill, barometric pressure, sea level pressure, altimeter setting, weather conditions, elevation, visibility and sky ceiling.

The system measures all types of weather conditions, except snowfall amounts.

Geraghty said pilots in the air getting close to the Fulton County Airport can log in with the terminal building and receive detailed weather updates, including the important altimeter setting they need to land properly.

“We’ve recorded 60-mile-an-hour winds,” Geraghty said.

The Fulton County Airport is maintained for county government on a regular basis by The 195 Factory, LLC — the facility’s fixed-based operator. The firm does aviation parts manufacturing, airframe structural repair, and provides restoration services, but also is in charge of regular operations at the airport and hangar activities. Geraghty said there isn’t someone manning the terminal building every day, but tracking information through AWOS is always available and recorded for posterity.

Demand for a weather system at the airport was precipitated by pilot inquiries.

Geraghty said that several years ago, pilots started questioning why the county airport didn’t have a weather-recording system. Local pilots told county officials the weather data would be helpful for landing and taking off at the airport.

He said AWOS was one of the priorities of former Planning Department civil engineer George DiMarco.

“This was one of his babies,” Geraghty said.

The county eventually awarded a $190,420 bid to O’Connell Electric of Victor, Ontario County, for construction of the AWOS project.

Fulton County, at the time, had about $600,000 in non-primary entitlement funds available from the Federal Aviation Administration for projects at the airport. Those funds paid for 90 percent of an airport project’s cost. The state paid for 5 percent, and the county paid 5 percent.

By October 2013, the AWOS was under construction, with it completed several weeks later. By March 2014, the Fulton County Planning Department was notified that a Federal Communications Commission license for the county’s AWOS was issued.

Weather data from the AWOS system is even available at the county Planning Department building on East Montgomery Street in Johnstown. Geraghty said the county also knows immediately if the system goes down, and a technician needs to be dispatched. Sometimes, he said power will go out and the computer system has to be reset.

“We bought up spare parts as part of the [project] package,” he said.

Geraghty said the Fulton County Airport remains an important part of the county. He said the airport continues to be used by recreational pilots, as well as corporate jets and government officials when they come to visit and do business in the county.

He said the airport has many new and exciting projects coming up, including one to completely replace all the facility’s original runway lights with new LED lighting. He said that work is part of a long-range plan still being finalized for several more improvements at the facility.

“Hopefully, the master plan will wrap up in a couple months,’ he said.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.

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