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Bipartisan Congressional Coalition Opposes FAA Plan for Orlando - (12/17/2008)

CONTACTS:  NATCA Florida Legislative Representative, Mitch Herrick, 413-446-7242; NATCA National Office, Alexandra Caldwell, 202-220-9813, acaldwell@natcadc.org

ORLANDO, Fla. – Despite repeated safety warnings and fierce opposition from air traffic controllers and a bipartisan Congressional coalition, the Federal Aviation Administration is intent on moving forward in a mad dash before Inauguration Day to separate the tower and radar approach control jobs for Orlando air traffic controllers who are already stretched thin due to staffing shortages, seriously jeopardizing the safety of the flying public.

De-consolidating a busy facility such as Orlando would mean separating the tower-portion of the facility from the radar portion, or TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control). The tower, primarily responsible for ground control and clearing aircraft for arrivals and departures, depends greatly on the TRACON, the portion of the facility primarily responsible for sequencing aircraft in the airport’s airspace to land and for aircraft departing from the airport hand-offs to an air traffic control center responsible for higher-altitude traffic.

Both portions of a facility depend highly upon one another and air traffic operations are improved by controllers with experience in both areas – akin to a medical student doing rotations in all specialties before becoming a doctor. “Knowing how my work in the tower intersects with another controller’s work in the radar room makes all the difference in the world. By working both positions I’m better able to visualize potential problems and avoid them,” said Mitch Herrick, NATCA Florida legislative representative.

Said NATCA Southern Region Vice President Victor Santore: “This split is not being done for safety, but rather to address poor staffing and long training times at the facility. This split creates an artificially well-staffed tower overnight; unfortunately, it being a tower with very little cumulative experience, the staffing problem will exist even after the split occurs.  An alternate plan offered by the union to address all the concerns was rejected by a top FAA official without consideration.” Splitting the facility will make trainees into instant air traffic controllers by requiring those trainees certified only in the tower to only work tower operations and the same for those only certified in radar. 

The FAA’s problem all along is that it has not had enough controllers to staff one facility. The ill-conceived solution? Create two smaller facilities and try to staff them.

“Rather than addressing the staffing problem at the existing facility the FAA has chosen to reshuffle its cards, cross its fingers and hope for the best,” said Herrick. “That is not a way to serve the flying public using this airport and airspace.”

Seeking to avoid such a drastic move by the agency, several members of Congress have also spoken out against the deconsolidation. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member John Mica, R-Fla., Senator Bill Nelson, D-Fla.; Congresswoman Corrine Brown, D-Fla.; Congressman Alcee Hastings, D-Fla.; Congressman Jeff Miller, R-Fla. lead a list of 15. The letter, addressed to FAA Air Traffic Organization Chief Operating Officer Hank Krakowski detailed their objections and asked that the FAA postpone its plans to de-consolidate until Congress has had full chance to complete work on FAA Reauthorization.  The letter reads, “Waiting until such a review process can be employed would ensure that realignments serve their stated purpose: to provide operational benefit to users, increase safety, increase system efficiency and save money.”

To read the letter Click Here.

On March 4 of this year the FAA announced that it planned to deconsolidate four major air traffic control facilities in the country this year:  Philadelphia, Miami, Memphis and Orlando.  After major grassroots efforts from controllers and members of Congress the deconsolidation of Philadelphia and Miami have been cancelled or delayed after the FAA reviewed alternate proposals, Memphis has been postponed and only Orlando remains on the list.

Said Santore:  “This deconsolidation plan has some serious flaws in it – it has to, seeing as 75 percent of the facilities the FAA planned to deconsolidate have now been taken off the list.”

The aforementioned letter also addressed this:  “The fact that these two facilities were removed from realignment consideration raises concerns regarding the Agency’s current criteria and selection process used in determining realignments.”

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