OIG To Review FAA’s Air Traffic Facility Realignment And Consolidation


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OIG To Review FAA’s Air Traffic Facility Realignment And Consolidation

By Daniel Baxter

February 2, 2011 - Many of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) air traffic control facilities were built over 40 years ago and are approaching the end of their useful life. This aging infrastructure, along with FAA’s efforts to develop the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), has prompted the Agency to consider facility realignment and consolidation.  

On September 1, 2010, the FAA established a Special Program Management Office to plan and manage large-scale realignments and consolidations. The Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) developed an initial spending plan of $1.5 billion through fiscal year 2017 for such efforts as airspace re-designs, facility planning and development, and construction of new facilities. 

In November 2010, the then-Ranking Members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and House Subcommittee on Aviation stated that with the FAA embarking on NextGen and given the current budgetary environment, there were significant opportunities for the Agency to realign and consolidate its vast network of aging facilities.

They requested that OIG review the FAA’s current plans for consolidating air traffic facilities and assess the major cost drivers and technical challenges associated with these efforts. Accordingly, OIG audit objectives are to assess the FAA’s current plans for realigning and consolidating its air traffic facilities, the FAA’s process for evaluating the feasibility and cost effectiveness of these plans, third, the major cost, technical, and workforce challenges involved with realigning and consolidating air traffic facilities. OIG will begin the audit this week.

National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) EVP Trish Gilbert testified on Aviation Safety before the House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee back in March 2010. Gilbert said, "the FAA has been engaging in the realignment and consolidation of facilities and services throughout the country without the input or involvement of air traffic controllers, pilots, airport managers and other vital aviation stakeholders.

"NATCA is pleased, however, to see a recent shift by the FAA away from the ad-hoc, unilateral approach to altering ATC facilities in services by vowing to develop a more comprehensive and inclusive plan. NATCA continues to caution the FAA that it must collaborate with NATCA to ensure that changes are made only in cases where the benefits outweigh the risks and that the risks are properly mitigated.


"NATCA cautions using consolidation as a way of cutting corners in equipping smaller terminal facilities. There is concern that one or more of the systems currently in use – including ARTS-IIE – is incompatible with ADS-B. It is NATCA’s understanding that the FAA may be considering consolidation of ARTS-IIE facilities simply to avoid equipping these facilities with the new software. This is not a good idea.


"Decisions on consolidations must be made only after full consideration of the effects of the changes is made and it is determined that the operational benefits outweigh the risks. Moving air traffic control operations out of small local airports and consolidating them with larger operations necessarily results in a reduction of service to those smaller airports, which will always take a lower priority than commercial traffic at large facilities.

As the NextGen plan for increased capacity depends on better utilization of current runway space, disincentivizing the use of small facilities by decreasing service will prove counter-productive even if consolidation reduces costs in the short term".

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