The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) wants to get rid of official weather observers at more than 50 airports across the country, including ours in Chattanooga. These are the people who communicate crucial weather information to the people in the towers to make sure your plane lands and takes off safely.

The plan, if executed, would mean job losses and potential safety hazards.

"I have a really solid professional team of people that monitor the weather here, and we know what we're doing," says Charles Starrett, Senior Weather Observer at the airport's Contract Weather Office (CWO) for nearly 20 years.

He learned, in a round-about way, about the plan to strip him and his team members of their duties. Air traffic controllers would go back to doing it, like they did for a short time in the mid-90s.

"There was a huge lack of interest, a huge lack of knowledge and understanding of the weather," adds Starrett.

He worries that tower personnel are already overworked and will make mistakes. If weather instruments go down, these tower workers can't just go outside the way a trained observer can--it's prohibited. Dedicated observers are necessary, Starrett says, especially during rapidly changing weather and storms.

Signal Mountain resident and former NTSB chairman Jim Hall says the FAA's plan is dangerous.

"We have been able to provide real-time information to pilots flying in and out of Chattanooga," says Hall. "If we lose that, it will make our airport unsafe."

From 1995 to 2000, more than 4,000 people died in aircraft accidents across the country. Weather related accidents accounted for more than 1300 deaths.
Essentially, the NTSB cited weather as a factor in 3 out of every 10 fatal aircraft accidents during this period.             
Officials say these accidents happened with regularity despite improvements in aircraft, navigational aids, training, and weather services.

Hall and Starrett say cutting observer positions isn't the worth the risk and the mere 14 million-dollar-a-year estimate that would be saved nationwide in the federal budget, based on the number cuts and the average salary of observers.

"We're cutting out infrastructure past the bone in the United States. We're into the muscle and tissue. A decision like this is going to cost lives in the future," states Hall.

"To us it's really absurd," adds Starrett.

Starrett also says a local panel including FAA officials is supposed to meet soon to discuss the plan, but he hasn't received an invitation. He and Hall hope that our congressional delegates either stop the plan or reverse it if it goes into effect.