Automatic-spending cuts impact Hurricane Hunters

MIAMI – The flight crews of the Hurricane Hunter Air Force Reserve are forced to take furlough days just like other members of the military because of automatic spending cuts imposed on the federal government.

"We are not exempt," Colonel Craig La Fave, Commander the 403rd Air Reserve Wing, told Local 10 by phone from Biloxi, Mississippi, where the squadron is based. 

Special section: Hurricane Headquarters

La Fave said he has adjusted the schedules of the 10 flight crews so there is always one ready to fly should the National Hurricane Center call.

While the cutbacks to the budget require the flight crews to take two days off every pay period, La Fave said he has "the okay from as high up as the Secretary of Defense to pay overtime to protect life and property" to keep the planes in the air.     

La Fave said he worries if there should be more than one system to check on at one time, which can sometimes occur during the peak of the hurricane season.

"I am comfortable with a one-storm scenario but I am not comfortable with a three-storm scenario," he said.

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La Fave said there may not be enough crews to keep three planes in the air, and that NOAA would need to pick its priorities if such a scenario happens. NOAA is exempt from taking furloughs.

The squadron covers the Atlantic, the Caribbean and the eastern Pacific regions.

"We took a significant cut but we have reconfigured the schedules so we have coverage through September 21," he said. 

That's the last pay period before the new fiscal year starts October 1. LaFave said he couldn't predict what will happen afterwards.