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Sun, Jun 18, 2006

Florida Congressmen File Motion To Keep Palm Beach Radar

Representatives Cite Safety Concerns Of Consolidation

South Florida congressional representatives and air traffic controllers are fighting to block the folding of Palm Beach International (PBI) Airport's approach control into Miami's Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON).

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports on June 14, US Representative Alcee Hastings proposed an amendment to H.R. 5576 that would "prohibit funds in the bill for consolidation of TRACON in high threat urban areas." Three other Florida representatives -- Mark Foley, Robert Wexler, and Clay Shaw -- also backed the amendment.

H.R. 5576, among other things, appropriates funding for the Departments of Transportation, Treasury and Housing and Urban Development through September 2007.

"It's a first step," Hastings' legislative director told the Sun-Sentinel, "but a very positive step." 

As Aero-News reported in March, if the consolidation is approved, Miami controllers would control approaches into PBI and Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International (FLL) from a facility in Miami before handing flights off to local air traffic controllers for final approach and landing clearances.

"It's a win for the residents of South Florida," said Shane Ahern, South Florida president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, who opposes the FAA proposal for safety reasons. "They can't concentrate risk by concentrating facilities in a hurricane-prone area."

In a letter to FAA Administrator Marion Blakey, Hastings said the consolidation would pose problems to what is already a high-risk urban area. "If a terrorist attack or natural disaster were to strike the Miami TRACON, then all three major international airports would lose their approach radar systems," the congressmen wrote. TRACON controllers 350 miles away in Jacksonville, he warned, would have to direct approaching traffic for virtually the entire state.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said consolidations have been successful in similar areas, and that backup procedures would be in place. "When we built a facility in an area prone to natural disasters, we make the facility capable of handling those kinds of events," she said.

Hastings' House amendment still has to move through the Senate.

FMI: www.natca.org, www.faa.gov, http://alceehastings.house.gov/

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