ATC Consolidation May Need BRAC-like Help

 - September 14, 2006, 6:31 AM

With the FAA planning to consolidate major ATC facilities and its regional offices, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, believes it may take a Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC)-type process to override congressional recalcitrance.

“While I am pleased with the bold cost-cutting and productivity initiatives the ATO [FAA air traffic organization] has implemented on the operations side,” Mica said, “I am hopeful that the transition to a satellite-based ATC system will open up other opportunities for even more significant, albeit politically unpopular, cost-saving initiatives, including the consolidation of major ATC facilities, the consolidation of regional offices and the decommissioning of ground-based navigational aids without any degradation to safety.”

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) had a different point of view. She appeared before the subcommittee to decry the plan as “a step backward,” at least as it would affect her district and FAA employees there. The district includes Los Angeles International Airport and the FAA’s Western Pacific Regional Office.

“The FAA maintains that the restructure will yield savings of $360 million to $460 million over 10 years,” she testified. “I question these optimistic projections. Despite requests, the FAA has failed to disclose the analysis that supports these projections.”
Instead of moving the regional office to Seattle, which the agency has proposed, Waters argued that it should be located in Los Angeles, which she said is a better location than Seattle. The “racial and ethnic diversity” in the current Western Pacific Office in Los Angeles will be lost if the move is made, she said, adding that the office has the highest percent of minority employees of any region in the country.

Meanwhile, in another part of the nation, Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) wrote to FAA Administrator Marion Blakey objecting to a decision to accelerate the consolidation/co-location of the Palm Beach International (PBI) Airport Tracon to Miami International Airport (MIA).

Hastings said that during a conversation with National Air Traffic Controller Association officials at PBI, he learned that select controllers at PBI have been told that they should begin making plans to be transferred to the MIA Tracon sometime in 2008.

“This schedule is in direct contravention of the time frame that my staff and the staffs of Reps. Clay Shaw [R-Fla.], Mark Foley [R-Fla.] and Robert Wexler [D-Fla.] were given during a meeting with FAA officials in my office on April 10,” Hastings wrote. “During that meeting, our offices were guaranteed that no Tracon-related personnel moves in South Florida would occur until 2009 at the absolute earliest,” he added.

Hastings said he was “astonished” that the FAA is not only continuing its efforts to consolidate/co-locate South Florida Tracons but is actually accelerating the move at PBI. He called this “absolutely reprehensible” and called on Blakey to reverse her decision.

In addition to Tracon consolidation, the Government Accountability Office has recommended that the FAA consider reducing the number of en route centers–which employ about 6,700 controllers–from the current 21.

“In light of political opposition to such initiatives, as evidenced by the reaction following the FAA’s proposal to consolidate certain radar stations or Tracons,” said Mica, “I believe we need to look at establishing a [BRAC-type] process in the next FAA reauthorization bill.”