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Pilots should have a say in tracon consolidations

Pilots, controllers, and the public must have a voice in decisions to consolidate radar approach control facilities. That was AOPA's position when the FAA first said it was going to fold the Palm Springs, California, radar facility into the huge Southern California Tracon (terminal radar approach control) facility across the mountain.

And that's what AOPA has consistently told the FAA, most recently in a July 25 meeting with agency officials.

"The FAA has committed to hold a public meeting when considering future consolidations," said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs, "but they need to give us that promise in writing."

While there are currently some 160 tracons and approach control facilities providing radar services within 30 to 50 miles of airports, the FAA wants to consolidate smaller facilities into larger tracons as a cost-saving measure.

"In principle, consolidation may mean greater efficiency, but it isn't always just about cost," said Cebula. "Consolidation might make radar services in an area more vulnerable to disruption from a natural disaster, or staff reductions might lead to controller overload.

Congress agrees.

In fact, the House of Representatives passed an amendment July 24 prohibiting the FAA from future tracon consolidation. That reflected the frustration many members of Congress have with the FAA.

"Frankly, the FAA has not been responsive to the gentleman from Florida," said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.), speaking about Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), who sponsored the amendment. The FAA wants to consolidate the Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and Palm Beach radar facilities into one tracon.

"Worse, they [the FAA] have been dismissive," said Oberstar. "They have not consulted with him or with his airport or with the community that he represents."

But Oberstar reluctantly opposed the amendment, saying that legislation (H.R.2881) he and aviation subcommittee Chairman Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) had proposed included a "process that will cure the problem the gentleman has brought to the House floor."

Rep. Costello said that the FAA had done a very poor job in communicating its consolidation plans with the aviation community, "but halting the process at this stage is not the answer."

"What we need is an open, continuous, and defined process, and that is exactly what we have in the reauthorization bill (H.R.2881) that the Transportation Committee passed just a few weeks ago," said Costello. "It allows affected stakeholders to work together with the FAA to develop criteria and make recommendations that will be submitted to the Congress and published in the Federal Register for proper review and oversight."

H.R.2881 is the FAA funding bill endorsed by AOPA and all other general aviation groups. The bill is currently under consideration by the House Ways and Means Committee. (See " User fees: A battle report.")

July 25, 2007

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