February 07, 2014
FAA plans to evaluate about 25 terminal radar approach control (Tracon) facilities by Oct. 1, kick-starting an effort to create a comprehensive, detailed air traffic facility consolidation and realignment plan as part of NextGen’s development, agency Administrator Michael Huerta says.
The evaluations, part of a broader congressional mandate, will for the first time include specific metrics created to help FAA determine how, or whether, each facility fits into the agency’s NextGen support plan.
“The evaluation will include a review of the infrastructure of the facility, the technology the facility can support, including its readiness for NextGen, and how people working at the facility will be impacted by any decision made,” Huerta told the House aviation subcommittee during a Feb. 5 hearing.
A set of five criteria will be applied “and given equal weight,” Huerta explains. The criteria will cover attributes like the facility’s condition, the airports it serves, and whether its airspace borders another Tracon’s airspace.
Once facilities are evaluated, the agency will develop prioritized, facility-specific recommendations, which would be subject to detailed cost-benefit analysis and industry feedback. Sets of plausible recommendations will be provided to Congress, fulfilling a requirement Congress included in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012’s Section 804. Huerta says FAA’s goal is an initial report back to Congress “early next year.”
Consolidation of FAA’s primary ATC facilities, including 167 Tracons and 20 en route centers, and making tactically sound investments in both existing and new facilities are considered key elements of supporting NextGen cost-effectively. A 2012 Transportation Department Inspector General (DOT IG) report noted the average age of a Tracon was nearly 30 years, while the average en route center was pushing 50. The more quickly FAA determines which ones merit continued investment and which ones can be phased out, the more funds the agency will have for related, and equally important, efforts.
“If aging systems and associated facilities are not retired, FAA will miss potential opportunities to reduce its overall maintenance costs at a time when resources needed to maintain both systems and facilities may become scarcer,” notes Government Accountability Office Physical Infrastructure Issues Director Gerald Dillingham.
FAA understands that freeing up funds to help develop new facilities is a must.