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FAA Rejects Concerns from Congress, NATCA; Splits Memphis Air Traffic Facility - (6/10/2009)

WASHINGTON – The Federal Aviation Administration last Sunday moved forward with a rushed plan to split the tower and radar control functions at Memphis International Airport, advancing a controversial management agenda and rejecting a torrent of concern from Congress and air traffic controllers who continue to urge the agency to delay this and future facility realignments until a process is put in place that is fact-based, transparent and includes all stakeholders.              

The move was the second such split of a major U.S. airport control facility this year in which the FAA completely disregarded the concerns of a bipartisan coalition of Congressional members and air traffic controllers who see the split as driven by power-hungry FAA management looking to put a band-aid on a gaping wound of staffing shortages, training problems and the pursuit of cost savings yet to be identified or proven. In January, the FAA split Orlando’s tower and radar functions -- citing understaffing as the primary reason -- thus reducing the margin of safety, degrading the efficiency of the operation and depriving new trainees of having the critical experience of knowing how the entire operation at a major airport works.              

NATCA President Patrick Forrey said the FAA’s decision to ignore Congress and NATCA’s pleas for a moratorium on realigning facilities until a common sense approach to the issue can be developed only increases the urgency with which Congress must act to pass a final FAA bill to hold the FAA accountable on this important safety and operational issue. Last month, the House passed its version of the FAA reauthorization bill that does just that.              

“The FAA is moving forward on ad hoc air traffic control facility and service realignment efforts without a comprehensive review procedure to determine whether the realignment provides an operational benefit to users, increases safety and efficiency, and/or saves the taxpayer money,” Forrey said. “FAA Reauthorization is needed to provide that review procedure and compel the agency to subject all current realignment efforts to this needed layer of oversight, accountability and transparency. Just as with technological development, realignment efforts completed in a collaborative environment will ensure benefits are realized rather than squandered.”              

Added Victor Santore, who represents controllers in both Memphis and Orlando in his role as NATCA’s Southern Regional Vice President: “The FAA defied the wishes of over 150 members of Congress and severed operations at the Memphis air traffic control facility. FAA management officials consider themselves accountable to no one. Administrator (Randy) Babbitt should be able to bring accountability back to the FAA and we hope to meet with him soon on this issue."   

The FAA is plowing ahead with more facility realignment plans, including those in Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada and Ohio, unless the FAA listens to Congress’ overwhelming opposition to this plan.

 


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