WASHINGTON (AP) - A plan to remove weather forecasters from the nation's Air Route Traffic Control Centers could endanger air travelers, the forecasters warned on Friday.
The Federal Aviation Administration wants to reduce costs, and asked the National Weather Service if it could produce weather guidance to air traffic controllers without having forecasters in each of the 20 centers.
The weather service proposal, which it planned to announce next week, is expected to call for provision of weather information from two units, located in Maryland and Kansas City, Mo., the National Weather Service Employees Organization said Friday.
"It's a public safety issue," said Dan Sobien, president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization.
It doesn't mean a plane will crash tomorrow, but it could happen one day if sufficient weather information isn't available, he said.
FAA spokesman Paul Takamoto confirmed that the agency is looking for ways to cut costs, but he insisted that any changes will not affect the ability of air traffic controllers to get weather guidance. Weather will be available on radar, he said, and controllers will be able to consult forecasters, just not face-to-face.
And Weather Service spokesman Chris Vaccaro said that any plan that is finally agreed to will ensure the safety of the aviation industry is maintained.
The proposal was questioned earlier this year by Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, who called on the agency to enhance the weather services at its centers rather than looking for ways to get the information elsewhere.
Forecasters were assigned to the centers starting in 1978 following a recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Some 84 forecasters staff the offices, but Sobien estimated that only about 30 jobs would be lost with the change.
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