FAA moves to consolidate air traffic control facilities: But faces opposition from controllers, elected officials

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Should air traffic control facilities be consolidated?

The FAA thinks so, but the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) says it is dangerous the way the FAA is doing it — and therein lies another struggle.

NATCA says it is not opposed to consolidation “”where it makes sense.”” The FAA’s approach, declares NATCA President Patrick Forrey, is unwise because “”the agency is completely rejecting any collaboration with controllers, pilots, local officials and other stakeholders.”” He adds that during the past 20 years, the FAA, NATCA and affected stakeholders have successfully worked together on eight major consolidations.

Congress is getting into the act now. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) introduced a bill to place a moratorium on the FAA’s consolidation efforts. Introduction of that bill came on the heels of one introduced by Rep. Mary Bono (R-Calif.) and Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to challenge the FAA’s attempt to move the Palm Springs Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) to the Southern California TRACON.

In other actions, two senators included amendments in the Senate’s version of the FAA reauthorization bill to stop consolidations. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutcheson (R-Texas) moved to halt consolidating the Southeast Regional Airport’s TRACON in Beaumont with the Houston TRACON. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) acted to halt consolidation of the Little Rock TRACON to the Memphis facility.

Last year the House voted 261-166 in favor of an amendment, introduced by Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), to prevent the FAA from making further consolidations. NATCA says that despite this expression of Congress’s position, the FAA has not altered its drive to consolidate.

NATCA and the FAA have been at odds for years over staffing and salaries. The controllers group accuses the FAA of failing to hire enough controllers to meet increased traffic and to replace retirements and resignations. As an example, NATCA says that by the end of this month, the Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center will have lost 39 veteran controllers so far this year and only 19 new hires have been brought in. Of the 39 losses, 28 are due to resignations or retirements. Others have moved into supervisory positions.

USER FEE STRUGGLE

General aviation came out one vote short in a Senate committee action on the FAA’s reauthorization bill. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) surprised many when he voted for the proposal to charge a $25 fee per flight. This proposal passed the committee by a single vote. Although voting for the proposal, Stevens secured an exemption from the charge for Alaskan pilots and some airline flights.

Contrary to FAA claims that the aviation trust fund will not have enough money to pay for the next generation air traffic control system, the government’s General Accounting Office says it will have the funds. Dr. Gerald Dillingham, GAO’s director of physical infrastructure issues, said this is true if the federal government continues to provide about 19% of the FAA’s budget and the current taxes remain the same.

One needs to bleed for the poor airlines. As we reported in the past issue of Capital Comments, their claim to pay more than their share is not backed up by facts. Now comes $200 million in largess from the government to help with their pension plans. This was one of the pork barrel amendments added in the Iraq war funding legislation.

Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.

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