U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and U.S. Representatives Mark S. Critz (PA-12) Tim Murphy (PA-18) have sent a bipartisan letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood expressing deep concern over the Air Force's proposal to close the 258th Air Traffic Control Squadron (ATCS) in Johnstown.
The 258th controls FAA airspace over Western Pennsylvania and supports a training mission for the entire Air National Guard. Closing the 258th could reduce the safety and efficiency of airspace over western Pennsylvania.
"The bottom line is that the 258th provides to the Air Force and the Air National Guard both the newest facilities and premier real life operational density, in addition to providing essential services to both the Army National Guard and the FAA," the Members wrote.
The Members also expressed concern that the National Guard Bureau and the FAA have not discussed the transfer of airspace that the closure of the 258th would necessitate. "It is deeply concerning to us that something as complex and dynamic as a transfer of airspace control would be treated so lightly, and that the impact of this proposal was never discussed with the FAA," they wrote.
Closing the 258th would also result in the loss of 97 Air National Guard reservist positions.
The full letter to Secretaries Panetta and LaHood is below:
Dear Secretary Panetta and Secretary LaHood:
We write to express our serious concerns over the reduction in safety and efficiency of the airspace over western Pennsylvania and the surrounding areas as a result of the Air Force's proposal to close the 258th Air Traffic Control Squadron (ATCS) in Johnstown, PA.
On March 29, 2012, Members of the Pennsylvania Congressional Delegation met with senior Air Force officials to discuss the details, both classified and unclassified, behind various "military judgments" that were made regarding the Air Force's Total Force Restructuring plan. Specifically, the Air Force has decided to reduce the total number of ATCSs in the Air National Guard (ANG) by two, including the 258th in Johnstown. At that meeting, it was pointed out that the 258th not only has an exemplary record of deployed military service, but also handles more combined radar/tower traffic than any other ATCS, has the newest facilities, and supports a training mission for the entire ANG providing Special Experience Identifiers (SEIs) that most other squadrons cannot provide. Additionally, the 258th actual controls Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airspace- something which no other ATCS does.
In response, the Air Force stated that the decision to close the 258th (and the 259th in Louisiana) was based on the lack of a co-located operational unit. When it was pointed out that the 258th is co-located and supports the 1st Battalion, 104th Aviation Regiment of the Army National Guard's 28th Combat Aviation Brigade, that statement was amended to a "lack of co-located Air Force operational unit." Their response did not adequately address the delegations concerns regarding the transition of the training and airspace control functions, and so a written follow-up response was requested.
That follow-up response, received April 9, 2012, stated that the current training program would be "redistributed amongst the remaining ANG ATC squadrons." While there are six other locations that can provide real-time training, none can do so in FAA controlled airspace using the newest STARS/DASR systems.
Regarding the FAA airspace control, the Air Force responded that "airspace is granted by the FAA to the military so air traffic control personnel can hone their skills and remain proficient in performing air traffic control duties to meet wartime requirements. With the divestiture of the 258th ATCS, there would be no wartime requirement to train wartime controllers there, and therefore, no airspace would need to be delegated to Johnstown; FAA [the Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC)] would then reassume airspace responsibilities. Since Congress has not yet passed the FY13 budget proposal, the FAA and NGB staffs have not coordinated on these plans." It is deeply concerning to us that something as complex and dynamic as a transfer of airspace control would be treated so lightly, and that the impact of this proposal was never discussed with the FAA.
Cleveland ARTCC has expressed some very real concerns with this decision. A recent FAA memorandum from the Support Manager for Airspace and Procedures at Cleveland ARTCC to the Department of the Air Force's Johnstown Air Traffic Manager dated April 27, 2012 (enclosed), states "over the last several years a substantial amount of time, as well as human and fiscal resources, were expended by the FAA in the development and implementation of the Johnstown Radar Approach Control (RAPCON). The opening of this RAPCON was prompted by the need to provide greater safety and efficiency" and to "help pave the way for" badly need air traffic control upgrades, such as the FAA's NextGen project. The memo goes on to say that "the closure of [Johnstown's] RAPCON and reabsorption of airspace by [Cleveland ARTCC] would cause irreparable harm in our ability to carry out the FAA's vision of safety, efficiency, cost effectiveness and community." It is clear that while closure of the 258th may provide a short-term cost savings to the Air Force, it will undoubtedly lead to increased costs to the Army National Guard units that the ATCS supports, the training mission of the Air National Guard, and to the Federal Aviation Administration. In our opinion, this kind of stove-piped decision making is the worst kind of fiscal irresponsibility.
The bottom line is that the 258th provides to the Air Force and the Air National Guard both the newest facilities and premier real life operational density, in addition to providing essential services to both the Army National Guard and the FAA. In response to the information we have just provided, we request that the Department of Defense provide to us, in coordination with the Department of Transportation, a plan to mitigate the FAA's safety, efficiency, and cost effectiveness concerns as soon as possible.
Robert P. Casey, Jr.
United States Senator
Mark S. Critz
Member of Congress
Member of Congress