The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration will rebuild one of its terminal radar approach control (Tracon) facilities on New York’s Long Island, serving the world’s busiest airspace. But the modernized Tracon is not for now the Integrated Control Facility (ICF) the agency plans under a nationwide ATC facilities consolidation effort.
The New York Tracon is one of the FAA’s largest such facilities, responsible for managing arrivals and departures within 40 miles of New York’s JFK and La Guardia airports, Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey and smaller airports in the region. It factors in the FAA’s long-term plan to consolidate ATC facilities into ICFs, including an integrated facility responsible for managing airspace over the New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia metropolitan areas.
On May 16, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced that “after his push,” the FAA will rebuild the New York Tracon in Westbury, N.Y., which faced being relocated under the facilities consolidation plan. Schumer said the agency was initially interested in combining the Westbury facility and the New York ATC center in nearby Ronkonkoma into one Northeast ICF site at an undetermined location within 150 miles of New York City. Lawmakers from Pennsylvania have also lobbied for the ICF.
Schumer said he extracted a commitment from Ray LaHood, the previous secretary of Transportation, to keep the Tracon on Long Island. Under a revised plan, the FAA will first upgrade the Tracon and consider later upgrades at Ronkonkoma. The Westbury facility could also be expanded to accommodate the Ronkonkoma facility at a later date. The two facilities combined employ 950 people. Schumer’s office estimates the cost of rebuilding the New York Tracon will be $245 million; it pegged the cost of the ICF at $490 million, Newsday reported.
Reason Foundation director of transportation studies Robert Poole, who has long pressed for reforms to the U.S. ATC system, said he was “very disappointed” by Schumer’s announcement. “It’s an ominous sign that the FAA’s overall facilities consolidation plan, mandated by Congress, is likely dead,” Poole said in an email. “When the New York ICF proposal was announced as the first step of a nationwide consolidation plan, I argued that this was a poor choice, given the high costs of everything in New York and the predictably high level of political involvement there… This new agreement, to simply rebuild the 30-year-old Tracon basically in place, puts a New York ICF far off in the future, if ever.”
At the same time as Schumer’s announcement, the FAA said that it has completed the first two stages of a New York-New Jersey-Philadelphia airspace redesign, including new routings and procedures, which “have brought tangible benefits to airlines” operating in those metropolitan areas. The agency said it will begin an effort to further reduce delays in the region based on its collaborative “Metroplex” approach.
The 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which President Obama signed in February of that year, required the agency to produce a “National Facilities Realignment and Consolidation Report” to support its NextGen ATC modernization effort, and to “reduce capital, operating maintenance and administrative costs” without degrading safety. Testifying in February before the House aviation subcommittee, Department of Transportation inspector general Calvin Scovel said the plan the FAA submitted, which it developed with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and Professional Aviation Safety Specialists unions, “establishes a new process for evaluating realignments” of Tracon facilities, but “is significantly less comprehensive than previous consolidation plans we reviewed in 2012.” The Government Accountability Office said the FAA “has yet to identify which facilities would be consolidated or realigned, and according to FAA officials, the study will continue through 2014.”
At the same hearing, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta testified that “executing the intent of the [legislation] has proven to be challenging,” but that the agency and labor unions had developed a “workable approach” to facilities consolidation. “There is always great sensitivity surrounding decisions affecting where people will work,” Huerta added.