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FAA May Remove Weather Forecasters

December 20, 2008

Weather forecasters warned on Friday that a plan to remove forecasters from the nation’s Air Route Traffic Control Centers could endanger air travelers.

In an attempt to reduce costs, the FAA has asked the National Weather Service to produce weather guidance to air traffic controllers without having forecasters in each of the 20 centers.

The National Weather Service Employees Organization said Friday, that the weather service proposal is expected to call for provision of weather information from two units, located in Maryland and Kansas City, Mo.

“It’s a public safety issue,” said Dan Sobien, president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization.

He said that it does not mean a plane will crash tomorrow, but it could happen one day if sufficient weather information is not available.

Paul Takamoto, FAA spokesman, confirmed that the agency is looking for ways to cut costs, but insisted that changes will not affect the ability of air traffic controllers to get weather guidance.  He said weather  will be available on radar, and controllers will be able to consult forecasters, just not face-to-face.

Chris Vaccaro, Weather Service spokesman, said that any plan that is finally agreed to will ensure the safety of the aviation industry is maintained.

Senator Daniel K. Inouye, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, questioned the proposal earlier this year.  He called on the agency to enhance the weather services at its centers rather than looking for ways to get the information earlier.

The National Transportation Safety Board recommended in 1978 that forecasters were assigned to the centers.

Sobien estimated that only about 30 jobs would be lost with the change, even though 84 forecasters staff the offices.

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