MIAMI - National Weather Service employees are balking at a cost-cutting proposal that would pull meteorologists out of all 20 air-traffic-control centers across the country.
"If we let this happen, people will die. It's that simple," said Dan Sobien, president of the union that represents weather service workers. "It would be devastating for anyone who flies."
Sobien said the plan would be delivered Tuesday at the behest of the Federal Aviation Administration, which pays for the 84 weather service employees stationed in air-traffic centers. Meteorologists would be moved to two central forecasting locations, in Kansas City and outside Washington.
Government weather experts have worked side-by-side with air-traffic controllers since 1978, Sobien said, after the National Transportation Safety Board ruled that a crash the previous year was because flight crews could not get quick updates on hazardous weather.
At least four meteorologists are assigned to each air route's traffic-control center to provide real-time, face-to-face updates and warnings about turbulent weather that could affect flights.
If the consolidation plan moves forward - if the FAA accepts next week's proposal, it is expected to enter a testing phase and would also require NTSB approval - controllers would have to rely on forecasters in Kansas City to advise them about local weather.
"If you're on a plane that's in trouble, wouldn't you want the air-traffic controllers consulting with a weather expert who's sitting right next to them, not in some central office halfway across the country?" Sobien said.
Attempts to reach an FAA representative for comment were unsuccessful yesterday morning, but agency officials have said the move would save money without sacrificing safety.
Boeing 737 flight instructor Alex Pintado said that airline crews depend on accurate weather reports relayed in real time. Without meteorologists at regional air-traffic centers, Pintado said he would feel less safe in the sky.
"Weather develops very fast," Pintado said. "You can be flying in perfectly clear skies and a line of thunderstorms develops in 20 minutes. You may find yourself in pretty nasty weather without needing to be there."