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FAA Looks To Cut Back In Other Areas After Air Traffic Controllers Saved

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Meghan McCorkell joined the Eyewitness News team in July 2011 as a...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — While control towers are being saved, the FAA is looking to cut back in other ways. A plan is in the works that could slash contract weather observers from some of the busiest airports. It’s a move some say could compromise flight safety.

Meghan McCorkell has more on the impact.

The FAA is considering a plan to train air traffic controllers to do the job of those weather observers, and that has some worried about safety.

From driving rains to dangerous lightning and whipping winds and even feet of snow, weather conditions change rapidly in Maryland. Now there may be fewer eyes to the sky at BWI Airport.

“It is important that pilots receive accurate weather information,” said Melissa McCaffrey with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

Some of that information now comes from airport weather observers, many of them meteorologists. But the FAA is looking at a plan to eliminate those positions and train air traffic controllers to take over the duties.

McCaffrey says it may be cause for concern.

“Air traffic controllers’ primary duty is not weather dissemination, it’s safely separating air traffic,” she said.

Weather plays a huge part in whether an aircraft should or shouldn’t fly and contributed to one of the deadliest crashes in Maryland history. In 2008, a Medevac helicopter went down, killing all but one person on board.

In a 2010 interview, survivor Jordan Wells told WJZ, “I remember looking up at the sky, at the stars and I just prayed to God. I said, `God, please send someone to save me.'”

Federal investigators cited outdated weather information as a cause for the crash.

“Weather is the number one reason for accidents, general aviation accidents today,” McCaffrey said.

Air traffic controllers already provide weather information at 300 smaller airports. The transition will impact 142 of the largest airports across the country. That includes major hubs like BWI, Dulles and Reagan National.

The FAA will extend the contracts of the weather observers until the end of the fiscal year so they can get more feedback on the plan.

The weather observers cost the FAA $57 million annually.

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