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FAA Delays Commissioning of New Air Traffic Control Facility - (1/11/2000)

Both the FAA controller and technicians’ unions strongly oppose the continuing delay to the completion of the Northern California Terminal Radar Air Traffic Control Facility (TRACON). The construction of the state-of-the-art new facility, located in Mather, California, was completed in August 1999. No air traffic is controlled there as yet, and it is costing taxpayers millions for it to sit empty. The cost doesn’t end with an empty showplace either. It would replace four aging Air Traffic Control Facilities in Oakland, Sacramento, Stockton, and Monterey, which are costly and impractical to maintain long past their intended lifespan.

The problem is the lack of computer automation, which puts the radar data on the controllers’ screens. The facility could commission on schedule if the use of equipment already in use at some of the busiest locations, such as New York, DFW, and Southern California, was approved. This would be the obvious choice for the Northern California facility, but an apparent bureaucratic quagmire has everything on hold. To make matters worse, the FAA seems prepared to spend substantially more money to let this needed project languish for an additional 30 months or more. The FAA even has a contract in place to purchase the equipment, which they are utilizing for a nearly identical new facility in Atlanta, Georgia.

First described as purely a budgetary decision, when the cost of this automation work around was $13.5M, the rationale for delay is now gone as the price has dropped dramatically. Lockheed Martin, builder of the ARTS IIIE air traffic control computer system, has offered an unprecedented discount to the FAA to facilitate the completion of the new Northern California facility.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) and Professional Airways Systems Specialists (PASS) are in favor of the on time commissioning of NCT. Both employee unions agree that to delay the NCT project would be a waste of tax dollars and would create an adverse impact for over 300 FAA employees who will work there. A coalition of ten U. S. Congress people apparently agrees. Representatives including Nancy Pelosi and Pete Stark sent a joint letter to FAA Administrator Garvey on December 15, 1999 expressing the same view.

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