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Judge orders NOAA hurricane hunter jet grounded

From The Washington Post:

A federal administrative law judge has stopped the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from flying its high-altitude jet into hurricanes until the agency negotiates with a union representing meteorologists, engineers and technicians.

Richard A. Pearson , an administrative law judge with the Federal Labor Relations Authority, found that the NOAA's Aircraft Operations Center in Tampa had wrongfully bypassed the National Weather Service Employees Organization in forming a team to study proposals for flying a Gulfstream IV-SP jet into and near the centers of hurricanes as safely as possible.

NOAA officials contended that they were not changing the conditions of employment for the jet's civilian crews, but Pearson said the high speed and altitude of the jet, the hazards of flying close to a storm's inner core, and the inability of flight instruments to detect all hazards were "quantitatively and qualitatively different from those the employees were accustomed to . . . and required them to face new and more complex safety hazards."

Jordan St. John , the NOAA director of public affairs, said the judge's ruling is under review. The ruling "won't change any hurricane observations" this year, he said.

The NOAA's propeller planes, the WP-3D Orions used since 1981 to fly into hurricanes and collect weather data, were not covered by the ruling.

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