The Automated Weather Observation System is expected to increase air traffic

by: JASON CHANEY - Airport manager Kelly Coffelt examines the new weather system installed at the Prineville Airport.

For the Prineville/Crook County Airport, the accuracy of weather data can make a major difference in how many pilots utilize the facility.

“The weather conditions are really important to a pilot,” explained airport manager Kelly Coffelt. “All of those conditions affect takeoffs, landings, and the safety of the flights.”

By that measure, they should see more air traffic in the future thanks to the completion of their new Automated Weather Observation System (AWOS).

Newly operational, the system meets the FAA standard for certified weather, enabling charter flights and other aircraft to land in Prineville.

“That is going to open up that segment of business to the airport,” Coffelt said. “If I tell someone it is clear and sunny, they might believe me, but it’s not official information. With this system, it becomes official FFA information.”

The system also greases the wheels for more aviation training. Hillsboro Aviation has begun offering flight school opportunities in Prineville and is hoping to expand in the area. The AWOS should help that cause.

“It becomes very important and advantageous for pilot training,” Coffelt said.

The new weather data will not only increase air traffic, it will help the local facility retain credit for certain flights into their airport.

“What would happen a lot of times is, let’s say there is a cloud layer in the area and the only way a lot of charter operations could file (flight plans) would be into Redmond,” Coffelt explained. “So what they would do is drop through the clouds on an instrument approach for Redmond, and once they got below the cloud, they would end the approach to Redmond, and break off and come to Prineville. The problem with that is, since that instrument flight plan was scheduled to go to Redmond, it doesn’t show up on our reference for this airport.”

Coffelt said that the FAA records operations for airports, and each takeoff and landing is counted toward funding for that facility. Consequently, losing credit for flights they received was costing them revenue.

“Now, they are going to know what the weather is here and be able to use our instrument approaches,” he said.

The AWOS just became operational last week, so the effects of its presence may not immediately show. It will take about 30 to 45 days for publication in pilot information guides. The information will appear on their website within two months and about a year from now, Coffelt anticipates the AWOS eventually contributing to local television weather forecasts for Prineville, which are now based on information from the Redmond and Bend airports only.

“It might seem like a small thing, but I actually think I it is going to be big, because it puts us a little more on the map,” he said. “It’s a big step.”

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