House Subcommittee Challenges ATC Consolidation Efforts

 - June 4, 2012, 4:35 PM
NATCA president Paul Rinaldi said, ATC facility "realignments should be implemented only when the realignment has a clear objective, quantifiable efficiency gains and a sound business case."

As the aviation subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives wrestles with deciding which of the FAA’s 402 Air Traffic Control facilities should be remodeled and which ones should be combined to reduce operating costs, Congressmen have been hearing testimony from the FAA, DOT and National Air Traffic Controllers Association (Natca) officials. David Grizzle, FAA COO of the Air Traffic Organization; Lou Dixon, the DOT’s principal assistant inspector general for auditing and evaluation; and Paul Rinaldi, Natca president, testified before the subcommitte on May 31. 

Because the subcommittee has been dissatisfied with FAA consolidation efforts to date, it instructed the DOT’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to audit the agency’s progress. The OIG determined that the average age of a Terminal Radar ATC facility (Tracon) is 28 years and the useful life of an en route center is 49 years. FAA said, “The estimated cost to replace 402 facilities is $10.6 billion,” with an annual cost to maintain those same facilities running about $100 million.

In statement released just before the beginning of testimony, the subcommittee said, “Despite its understanding of the need to make decisions on facility requirements and to move ahead with realignments and consolidations, the FAA has previously met parochial political resistance from Congress, and at times, its own workforce. If the FAA is to successfully implement NextGen and achieve the expected cost savings, cost avoidance and safety improvements, it must work with Congress, labor, industry and other stakeholders to develop clear facility requirements and sound business cases; comply with the mandates of the recently enacted Reform Act; and move ahead with needed realignments, consolidations, and/or maintenance plans in an expedited fashion.”

In his planned testimony, Rinaldi said, “It is Natca’s position that realignments should be implemented only when the realignment has a clear objective, quantifiable efficiency gains and a sound business case evaluating each proposal.” He added, “While realignment may play a role in modernizing facilities with NextGen capabilities, realignments and automation upgrades are two separate issues. Automation systems can be housed in any type of building whether they it has been realigned or not.”