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Thu, Feb 18, 2010

NATCA Mounts Grass-Roots Effort On ATC Realignment

Reports Over 550 Letters Sent To Congress Through Advocacy Website

NATCA says that pilots and aviation stakeholders from Ohio and other locations around the country affected by the possibility of losing local air traffic control radar services have sent over 550 letters to their members of Congress through a special advocacy website. While not branded, the site presents information about the proposed realignment from the standpoint of those who feel the consolidation will affect pilot safety. The letters reportedly ask Congress to compel the FAA to adopt a transparent, inclusive process before the agency makes any further moves toward changing its facilities.

Specifically, according to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), the pilots themselves say they want to be included in an issue that has broad aviation safety ramifications.

"Radar's our eyes when the weather goes down. It's our way back to the airport to be able to fly and land safely," said pilot John Defrance, commenting to WYFX-TV in Youngstown, Ohio, on the importance of having a say in any plan that would affect how radar services are provided.

NATCA officials spent much of the last three weeks traveling around Ohio to brief pilots and other local aviation community officials on what they believe is the FAA's plan in the absence of being included in the process as well. In recent days, NATCA took its briefings to Lansing, MI, and Grand Rapids, MI, for meetings with pilots and other stakeholders who expressed their frustration at being shut out of the FAA decision-making process.

"We stand with pilots, airport directors and all local aviation stakeholders who are opposed to the FAA's moves without having a say in the matter through a collaborative, transparent process," NATCA Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert said. "We all just want to be heard, to have a voice. For pilots and controllers, safety is everything. Any moves toward changing how we provide safety services today must be done carefully and with full stakeholder involvement."

The realignment issue involves the FAA closing a local air traffic control radar function, known as TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control), which handles the climb and approach phases of flight within 40 miles of an airport. NATCA has focused on airports in the Dayton, Toledo, Mansfield, Akron, Canton and Youngstown areas of Ohio the past two weeks as that is where the FAA intends to close TRACONs at local airports and move them either to Columbus or Cleveland.

NATCA says each facility and sectored airspace is unique. Therefore, the union contends the only way to determine if the realignment of an air traffic control facility is necessary and appropriate is through the development of a comprehensive plan for each proposed realignment. Controllers, pilots, users, airport directors and all stakeholders must be included throughout the process from inception to implementation. The benefits of the realignment must also be clearly defined before the inception of any plan, and agreed to by all stakeholders. Additionally, improving safety, efficiency and services must be the driving force for the realignment, not cost savings, according to NATCA.



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