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Reps. Bono and Filner, Sen. Feinstein, Lead Effort to Prevent FAA from Moving Palm Springs Radar Control to S. California TRACON - (4/19/2007)

CONTACT:     Jim Corey, Palm Springs Tower, 760-218-0951; Hamid Ghaffari, NATCA Western Pacific Regional VP, 661-400-2496; Anthony Vella, Southern California TRACON, 760-522-6277 

, D.C.
 – The National Air Traffic Controllers Association today is praising the work of U.S. Representatives Mary Bono, R-Calif., and Bob Filner, D-Calif., and Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in leading a strong, bipartisan effort to challenge the Federal Aviation Administration’s unsafe and unwise attempt to move the Palm Springs Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) to the Southern California TRACON (SCT).

Currently, air traffic controllers in Palm Springs (PSP) are responsible for all aircraft in a 35-mile-wide slice of airspace. They use their vast experience and expertise in helping pilots navigate some of the most complex airspace and challenging terrain for aviation in the country. In addition to Palm Springs International, PSP controllers handle all air traffic in and out of Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport and Bermuda Dunes Airport. But the FAA, as part of a cost-cutting agenda to consolidate air traffic control facilities, now proposes to move Palm Springs’ radar control responsibilities to SCT, the nation’s busiest TRACON which is already suffering under the weight of the unsafe combination of falling staffing levels, rising workload, rising numbers of operational errors and little relief in sight from new hires that will take years, if ever, to fully certify at one of the most demanding FAA facilities in the country.

“Air traffic controllers stand firmly in support of Congresswoman Bono and Congressman Filner and Senator Feinstein and applaud them for leading a bipartisan coalition of California Members of Congress in opposing the FAA’s ill-advised attempt to move the Palm Springs TRACON into the already overburdened and understaffed Southern California TRACON (SCT),” said NATCA President Patrick Forrey. “SCT handles 2.2 million operations each year.  Yet, this facility is currently operating with 73 fewer controllers than it needs and this has resulted in a three-fold increase in operational errors since 2004.  The Agency’s plan to add to this mix an additional 220,000 annual Palm Springs operations without increasing staffing or even adequately training existing staffing to handle the extra traffic burden is ill-advised, ill-timed, and ill-planned.”

Coming on the heels of a 261-166 House vote last year to oppose FAA attempts to further consolidate air traffic control functions, Forrey said this bipartisan effort again demonstrates the need for the FAA to collaboratively engage stakeholders, including air traffic controllers and Members of Congress, in its decision-making.

Said Hamid Ghaffari, a Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center controller and NATCA Western Pacific Regional Vice President: "The FAA plan to consolidate PSP approach control to the Southern California TRACON reduces efficiency for our users and is downright dangerous.”

Rep. Bono said in a press release that, “the tens of thousands of commercial and private aircraft that take to the sky each day, and the hundreds of thousands of flights that occur annually in Southern California must be given careful attention by the FAA. For the safety of the traveling public, emergency situations must be managed in split-second time by properly staffed air traffic control centers; and it is the FAA's responsibility to inform the public that this critical need is being met."

Ghaffari said combining these two facilities with such varying terrain unnecessarily compromises safety with few if any fiscal gains. Compounding that risk is the fact that the FAA plans to provide only four days of simulated training for controllers to certify for the complex Palm Springs airspace. And staffing is already a major problem at SCT. Of the certified controllers in the facility, 56 are eligible to retire by year’s end, and it is highly unlikely that enough of the new hires the FAA says it is adding will successfully complete the incredibly demanding training process to come close to keeping up with the rate of attrition.

Congressman Filner said the FAA’s consolidation proposal “will only exacerbate staffing problems, and result in further delays and potential safety hazards for the traveling public.”

According to just-released data, Palm Springs is the fastest growing airport among the top 100 in the United States and has experienced a 45 percent increase in passengers in the last five years.

Said Sen. Feinstein: “I am concerned that the proposed consolidation, potential staffing shortages and abbreviated training may degrade the quality and safety of the air traffic control system for this airport.”

Concluded Forrey: “The National Transportation Safety Board last week issued a report concluding that controller fatigue is a chronic problem throughout the air traffic control system.  Because understaffing is the main reason controllers are more fatigued than ever, adding an additional 220,000 operations to the already-beleaguered SCT controller staff would go against everything that the NTSB warned the FAA about last week.  Controllers are overworked, overstressed, and flat-out exhausted.  They need less – not more – hectic schedules.”

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