Section 804 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (Public Law 112-95) requires the FAA to develop a plan to realign and consolidate existing air traffic control facilities. This effort supports the FAA’s transition to NextGen and a reduction in infrastructure costs. Any change would only be implemented if it would positively result in cost savings and would not adversely affect safety.
FAA air traffic control facilities where controllers perform both approach control and tower duties are the primary category being reviewed. The FAA views these locations as eligible for cost savings as the approach control function may be better performed if consolidated with another terminal radar approach control (TRACON). The tower would not be affected and would remain open.
When this process began, AOPA requested that the FAA hold public meetings and solicit pilot input on its TRACON realignment efforts. AOPA believes that the FAA needs to hear directly from local pilots about what potential impact the realignments could have on operations. Further, the FAA should not undertake realignment if there are negative impacts on safety and operational efficiency. According to the FAA, realigning TRACONs saves money and increases controller efficiency.
TRACONs are FAA facilities that house air traffic controllers who use radar displays and radios to guide aircraft approaching and departing airports generally within a 30- to 50-mile radius up to 10,000 feet, as well as aircraft that may be flying over that airspace. In other words, while TRACON controllers do not handle landings and takeoffs like airport tower controllers, they are responsible for the safe separation of aircraft flying in the busy areas surrounding airports.
There are currently over a hundred FAA TRACON facilities nationwide that provide radar separation of aircraft in terminal areas. General aviation pilots depend on this service for both instrument flight rules (IFR) and visual flight rules (VFR) services. Many general aviation operations transiting from the terminal to the enroute environment rely on the radar service provided by TRACON facilities, especially for IFR flights.
Since this process was first envisioned, AOPA has been part of the process and working to ensure that the FAA adequately studies and addresses the potential impacts caused by TRACON realignments. These potential impacts include the FAA's ability to maintain robust radar services and the potential for inadequate staffing, which could result in controller saturation. Further, the FAA should provide adequate notification and opportunity for input on any planned TRACON realignment. We encourage local pilots to comment on these proposals as they are announced so the FAA can make an informed decision.
Simply put, AOPA would oppose any FAA action that would cause negative impacts to existing services to pilots. As the FAA process has progressed and realignment has now been realized at several locations, we have seen positive improvements for local users. In almost all cases, the consolidation results in better services for general aviation pilots, such as: operational hours extended, improved inter facility coordination, and better controller staffing. The cost savings can also be significant over time which allows for further investment in air traffic modernization.
National Facilities Realignment and Consolidation Report Part 1 (Federal Register notice published March 26, 2015)
National Facilities Realignment and Consolidation Report Part 2 (Federal Register notice published June 7, 2016)
National Facilities Realignment and Consolidation Report Part 3 (Federal Register notice published July 17, 2017)
National Facilities Realignment and Consolidation Report Parts 4 & 5 (Federal Register notice published March 19, 2019)
Updated April 22, 2019