HC Deb 06 March 2000 vol 345 cc497-8W
Mr. Beith

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what arrangements will exist for the provision of weather information for aircrew using the Northumberland low-flying area following the planned closure of the manned Meteorological Office stations at RAF Boulmer and at Newcastle. [112824]

Dr. Moonie

This is a matter for the Chief Executive of the Meteorological Office. I have asked the Chief Executive to write to the right hon. Member.

Letter from Peter Ewins to Mr. Alan Beith, dated 6 March 2000: I am replying to your question to the Secretary of State for Defence about the provision of weather information for aircrew using the Northumberland Low-Flying Area (LFA 12). This matter falls within my area of responsibility as Chief Executive of The Met. Office. Forecasts for LFA 12 are prepared by our forecasters at military airfields. They use a range of data including observations from Newcastle Weather Centre and RAF Boulmer, and also computer-generated forecasts, rainfall radar, satellite imagery and observations from other sites, like Carlisle, Eskdalemuir, Spadeadam and Newcastle airport. The provision of these forecasts will not be adversely affected by changes we are making to our network of weather centres and observations sites. Nor will their quality. We recognise that our customers, both public and private, are under pressure to reduce their costs, which, in turn, will continue to place downward pressure on Met. Office prices. We are, therefore, continuing to put emphasis on the lowering of unit costs, while at the same time improving the quality of output. Increased automation and rationalisation of our forecasting and observations networks are important parts of this strategy. When Newcastle Weather Centre closes, an automatic observing station will be retained. Similarly, if a decision is taken to cease manned observations at RAF Boulmer, an automatic system will be maintained in that area. While these automatic systems do not provide all of the elements contained in a 'human' observation, they are capable of reporting more frequently and will be enhanced as new sensors are developed. They may also have co-located CCTV cameras; two such cameras will soon e deployed at Eskdalemuir and St Mary's Loch and will provide useful additional data for aircraft operating in the Borders area. In summary, the 'human' elements of the observations from Boulmer and Newcastle Weather Centre are not crucial to the task of forecasting for LFA 12 and, given the other advances that are being introduced, I can assure you that there will be no degradation in the service provided to aircrew using the area.

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