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NATCA Says FAA Plan for Achieving Traffic Efficiencies in Chicago Airspace "Won't Fly" - (9/5/2001)

CHICAGO – Chicago-area representatives from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association are reacting strongly to a report from the Federal Aviation Administration – released Tuesday to NATCA’s surprise – which controllers say is a completely unrealistic plan to improve traffic flows and decrease delays.

According to the study, called the Chicago TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control) Airspace Project (CTAP), the changes proposed “are designed to improve traffic flows and reduce airborne and ground delays. They would enhance safety and efficiency by maximizing controller flexibility and simplifying operations for pilots.”

Unfortunately, says Ray Gibbons, NATCA’s local president at the Chicago TRACON in Elgin, Il., “what the study doesn’t reflect is the likelihood of achieving those goals. The FAA has spent millions of dollars on a program that won’t fly and it has nothing to show for it. Now it is writing checks we won’t be able to cash and trying to mislead the flying public as well as the airlines with its grandiose promise of future savings.”
The study touts potential benefits to airlines and travelers in the form of improved on-time performance, reduced fuel costs due to fewer miles flown, fewer delays on the ground for aircraft at other airports waiting to depart to the Chicago region and fewer ground delays for aircraft waiting to depart Chicago-area airports. Additionally, “the proposed project would reduce ground and airborne delays and, in turn, enhance air quality through reduced aircraft emissions.” The study concludes the implementation of CTAP will result in a cost savings to the airlines, airspace users, and air travelers estimated at approximately $68 million per year.

All of this would be music to controllers’ ears – if it were possible to carry out. But, they say, that is far from the case. In fact, in 1997, NATCA and the FAA agreed that the transfer of airspace was unworkable. NATCA Great Lakes Region and Chicago officials expressed many concerns about the viability of CTAP in a Dec. 12, 2000, letter to the FAA Air Traffic Division. Still, the FAA chose to release its study Tuesday without addressing those concerns.

“The procedural and airspace changes required at the TRACON, as well as the Chicago Center in Aurora, Il., are so outlandish they would take years to accomplish, even if we felt they were workable,” stated Don Wishowski, NATCA’s local vice president at Chicago Center. “Additionally, the changes recommended in the study are completely outside of initiatives that NATCA and the FAA are currently considering at the national level in conjunction with National Airspace Redesign.”

Due to the complexities involved with CTAP, NATCA initiated a short-term procedure known as Compressed Arrival Procedures (CAPS) in a good faith effort to improve efficiency and better serve the users of the system. CAPS involves stacking planes vertically instead of flying single file as they approach O’Hare International Airport.

“We offered CAPS as a simpler, workable alternative which could be implemented immediately, and it was,” Gibbons said. “The results thus far have been very encouraging and we are delivering what we promised.” However, Gibbons concluded, “I would be very wary of the FAA’s promises made to air travelers hungry for relief from the current traffic saturation they are facing on a daily basis.”

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