Congressman Mark S. Critz (PA-12) announced today that the House of Representatives has passed the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4310), which includes an amendment to retain the core functions of the 258th Air Traffic Control Station (ATCS) in Johnstown, PA. The Air Force proposed earlier this year to reduce "two air traffic control units" as part of the announced Total Force Restructuring Plan. These two units were later determined to be Pennsylvania's 258th and Louisiana's 259th.
"The 258th Air Traffic Control Station is one of the Air National Guard's top performing units," said Congressman Critz, a member of the House Armed Services Committee who introduced the amendment during debate on H.R. 4310. "This unit has the most modern facilities, the newest and busiest radar approach control (RAPCON), and handles more radar traffic than the other nine squadrons in the Air National Guard combined -- all of which would be wasted by the Air Force's proposal to close the unit."
In addition to providing unique air traffic services to joint military aircraft, the 258th ATCS provides essential National Air Traffic Control Services to the Federal Aviation Administration's Eastern Region Airspace. In fact, the 258th was the first entity (military or civilian) in over forty years to take airspace from an Enroute Center for the purpose of opening a brand new radar approach control facility in the continental United States. The transfer of airspace control from the FAA to the military in this case was a "first of' event that required years of coordination and investment of time, money, and manpower resources.
Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) has expressed serious concerns with the Air Force's proposal. A recent FAA memorandum states that, "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 " 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," added Congressman Critz. "In my opinion, this kind of stove-piped decision making is the worst kind of fiscal irresponsibility."
The Critz Amendment directs the Secretary of the Air Force to "retain the core functions of the Air Traffic Control Station at Johnstown Air National Guard Base, Pennsylvania, with the same integrated mission elements, responsibilities, and capabilities as existed as on November 1, 2011 "
"The proposal to close the 258th ATCS was made without any careful analysis, without any whole-of-government impact or consideration of its impact on the National Guard, and without any prior Congressional notice," said Congressman Critz. "My amendment, which passed the House of Representatives today, puts the brakes on a rash decision by the Air Force."
The Critz Amendment, now part of the FY13 National Defense Authorization Act, must now be considered by the U.S. Senate.