New York Center, Tracon to share ‘Crystal Palace’

 - May 5, 2008, 7:06 AM

The New York Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) and the New York Tracon will be combined into one building under an FAA plan to integrate air traffic services in the New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia metropolitan areas.

Nicknamed “Crystal Palace,” the New York Integrated Control Complex (NYICC) would co-locate the New York Tracon in Westbury, Long Island, and the New York Center in Ronkonkoma, which is about 25 mi east. The center would be built on Long Island since most of the air traffic controller workforce from the two current facilities reside there.

More than 600 controllers would be consolidated in the $144 million building on a site that has not yet been selected. By using the more accurate Tracon radar equipment and expanding the Tracon airspace, controllers could keep aircraft spaced more closely and for a longer period of time than is possible with the en route radar, which is less accurate because it represents a composite picture from several radar sites.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (Natca), which is working with the FAA on creating the new facility, claimed that this would allow them to space aircraft three miles in trail all the way to Washington, D.C. It also could reduce delays caused by holding patterns.

The idea for the NYICC came from a group redesigning the National Airspace System. “Placing terminal and en route controllers side-by-side will allow the application of the most efficient separation standards available,” said Tracon controller Jim Shelton. “This configuration will minimize coordination and inter-facility service interruptions while ensuring maximum runway utilization during periods of peak demand.”

Natca said that on most weekdays, New York Tracon airspace gets saturated quickly, and the facility tells New York Center not to accept any more aircraft. Center then puts inbound aircraft in a holding pattern that can be 30 mi wide and notifies adjacent centers that it cannot take any more aircraft. The resulting domino effect can stretch across much of the country in less than 20 min, causing ground holds and stops. Thunderstorms can wreak similar havoc.

Construction of Crystal Palace could begin in the next couple of years, with commissioning projected for mid-2008. The FAA has estimated that delays in the New York City area cost $1.5 billion a year, and it said that the facility–the first in the nation to coordinate both high- and low-altitude traffic–could save hundreds of millions of dollars a year.