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Weather planes to move to MacDill

Amid outrage from South Florida lawmakers, a Miami-based weather aircraft unit got its marching orders for a move to Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research fleet was ordered Friday to begin moving from Miami International Airport to MacDill, where it should be up and operating by Jan. 1.

President Bush announced the shift last weekend during a campaign stop in Clearwater. He touted it as a way to keep MacDill in operation once its fighter training wing is transferred to Arizona in 1994.

Best known for its "hurricane hunter" planes, the unit of 15 aircraft and almost 100 employees was told to move by NOAA administrator John Knauss.

But a day earlier, four members of Congress from South Florida sent a protest letter to Commerce Secretary Barbara Hackman Franklin.

"This decision comes at a very difficult time in Dade County as we try to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Andrew," said the letter, which asked for talks about keeping the unit in Miami.

The letter was signed by Democrats Dante Fascell, William Lehman and Larry Smith and Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

In the letter, they said the director of Dade's Aviation Department had worked out three options to lower NOAA's cost in Miami and make it worthwhile to shelve plans for the move to MacDill.

The move is expected to save as much as $10-million during the next 10 years, said Bob Fagin, NOAA's administration chief.

The representatives say losing the fleet would deal another blow to South Florida's economy while it is still reeling from the devastation of the hurricane.

Despite the opposition, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, R-Cape Coral, expects no reversal.

"This deal is far enough along that it would take an awful lot to eliminate it," Mark Mills said.

NOAA had been looking to leave Miami, he said. If the unit hadn't gone to MacDill, it may have moved out of state.