April 3rd, 2013
By Angela Greiling Keane and Alan Levin
WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration could save $1.7 billion upfront and about $1 billion more annually by closing 187 air traffic radar rooms and building consolidated centers to control flights over large regions, a study found.
Most U.S. centers and regional approach control facilities “can and should be shut down,” wrote the report’s authors.
They included Robert Poole, transportation director for the Reason Foundation, and Michael Harrison, the FAA’s former director of architectural and systems engineering.
“They can be replaced by a much smaller number of facilities, many of which can be designed from the outset to function in the from-anywhere-to-anywhere paradigm,” the report said.
The conclusions point to cost savings available to the FAA apart from automatic budget cuts imposed at most U.S. agencies.
The $1 billion in annual savings, which the report said can be gained in productivity, equipment and facility maintenance, amounts to about 6 percent of the agency’s annual budget.
A planned $42 billion redesign of the air traffic control system could help consolidate many of the FAA’s 561 staffed facilities by upgrading technology so controllers won’t need to work below the airspace they manage, the Reason report said.
Under the redesign, flying would be more efficient because of technology that allows more precise aircraft tracking, streamlined communications and more direct routing with fewer delays, said Los Angeles-based Reason, which advocates for smaller government.
The authors didn’t calculate the costs of building new facilities to replace the closed ones or address the obstacles to uprooting employees including unionized controllers.
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, a union representing 15,000 controllers, has objected to closing facilities in the past in West Palm Beach, Fla., and Boise, Idaho.
“NATCA supports facility consolidations and realignments where they enhance operational services and the safety and efficiency of the National Airspace System,” the union said in an email. It is working with the FAA on a plan to merge facilities in the New York region, it said.
Maximizing the benefits from the so-called NextGen air traffic control upgrade project would require moving more than 500 radar rooms that are obsolete or can’t accommodate new equipment.
But U.S. lawmakers blocked several attempts to merge FAA facilities, Bloomberg reported in November.