July 12, 2006

DECISION IN SEARCH OF A RATIONALE

Guest opinion by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo

What would you say if you heard there was a question about the safety and security of one of the Inland Northwestâ??s primary transportation hubs? If the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) pushes ahead with its current proposal to co-locate Boise Airportâ??s TRACON facility to Salt Lake City, there are many airport users, including pilots and air industry experts, who believe that the safety, security and efficiency of the airport will be compromised. Unbeknownst to airport officials and users, Congress, state and local officials until very recently, the FAA was making plans to move the TRACON facility during the construction of a new Boise air traffic control tower. The Delegation has been working for the past few years to secure money for a new tower that would include a TRACON. The FAA is considering co-locating TRACON facilities nationwide as a cost-saving measure, but in this case, they seem to have altitude sickness. By way of background, TRACONs are FAA facilities in which air traffic controllers use radar displays and radios to guide aircraft approaching and departing airports within a 30 - to 50 - mile radius up to 10,000 feet, as well as aircraft that may be flying over that airspace. Once an approaching aircraft is within five miles of an airport and below 2,500 feet, TRACON controllers transfer communications with the aircraft to air traffic controllers in the airport tower. When departing aircraft leaves TRACONâ??s control range, TRACON controllers pass responsibility for the aircraft to controllers at FAA En Route Centers which guide the aircraft at higher altitudes while en route to the next airport.Over the past nine months, the Idaho Congressional delegation has met four times with FAA officials, and another meeting is planned in mid-July. Of serious concern to me is the frustrating lack of information from the FAA and, when pressed, the inadequacy of the information that comes out. The cost savings amount is highly questionable and I am not satisfied with explanations about how a TRACON facility 300 miles from Boise can guarantee any kind of air traffic safety and efficiency for the airport. In fact, in the July 5 hearing in Boise, airport users, pilots and private experts testified that safety and efficiency could NOT be guaranteed at that distance. This sounds a lot like a decision in search of a rationale. The fact of the matter is that the Treasure Valley is a growing area. The Boise airport is the 62nd busiest in the nation, and serves many government and private functions. Boise is a business and government hub and customers who use the airport simply do not use the Salt Lake City airport. Moving the TRACON facility to Salt Lake compromises the efficiency and safety of Boise Airport air traffic control functions. Iâ??m a firm believer in reducing government waste, but this move by the FAA was made without local and regional considerations. TRACON carries out a critical function that must be performed by the federal government, and the government must conduct these operations responsibly and safely. Airport users at all levels clearly are not convinced that efficiency and safety can be maintained if the TRACON facility is co-located to Salt Lake City. Given that the FAA has failed to produce credible data supporting the TRACON move upon repeated requests by the Delegation, they must abandon this flawed course of action and move forward with building the new Boise tower to include the radar. If they do not, legislation to stop the facility transfer will be in order. WORD COUNT: 586