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Tulsa Weather Observers: FAA Furloughs May Compromise Flight Safety

Lacie Lowry, News on 6

Contract workers with the Federal Aviation Administration say the agency is sacrificing safety for money.

The FAA has publicly announced cuts and furloughs due to sequestration. One Tulsa group that hasn't been affected yet fears it's the next to go.

Weather Observers say they're like security guards at a warehouse.

"Most of the time we're not doing much of anything, but when it happens it's a good thing we're there," said Kevin Lux. "When we get thunderstorms, snowstorm, freezing rain."

Weather observers are used at many airports across the country. The office Lux works in services Tulsa International Airport.

"When weather is rapidly changing, you want the best observation you can get," Lux said.

He and five coworkers track weather from the building by the airport. Someone is there 24/7. They provide extra details about current weather conditions that they say an automated computer system doesn't.

Lux said that includes thunderstorms, their location, movement and lightning.

"Oklahoma weather can go from nice to 'Holy crap,' in twenty minutes," Lux said.

Now that FAA furloughs have kicked in, flight delays are resulting from coast to coast.

4/22/2013 Related Story: FAA Furloughs Kick In, Some Flight Delays Appear

These weather observers think their jobs are on the line. They say they were supposed to get a new FAA contract in October. That still hasn't happened and their current contract runs out in May.

Weather observers believe the FAA is cutting the program and will rely instead on computers combined with air traffic controllers, who would do limited weather observing from the towers.

"I'm not sure they're going to do that, and if they're landing planes, I'd rather they didn't," Lux said.

Lux said safety shouldn't be left up in the air.

We've contacted the FAA in Washington, D.C., and the regional FAA office for comment. The public affairs manager who covers Oklahoma said he would get back with us and we're still waiting.