By Keith Herbert
The Federal Aviation Administration should build a new air traffic control center on Long Island, and keep hundreds of jobs from going to upstate New York or New Jersey, the president of the traffic controllers' union said Monday.
Paul Rinaldi, National Air Traffic Controllers Association president, said his union supports the FAA's effort to consolidate facilities and the modernization of air traffic operations, but the NATCA members who live and work on Long Island want to stay.
"They want this facility to be located on Long Island where most of them have deep roots," Rinaldi said of his members.
In a statement, FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salac said that "as part of the site selection process, the agency is engaging with stakeholders including labor organizations and local officials, and will continue to do so throughout the summer."
The FAA has done some preliminary engineering and design work for the new facility, but "a final location has not been determined at this time," Salac said.
In testimony before a House transportation subcommittee in May, Rinaldi said NATCA had not taken a position on the FAA proposal, which could mean the uprooting of nearly 1,000 FAA employees currently employed on Long Island. That changed Monday with Rinaldi's announcement.
About 600 controllers now working at two FAA facilities in Nassau and Suffolk counties could be moved to upstate New York or New Jersey under plans for construction of a new $95-million air traffic building on the FAA's drawing board.
NATCA's office in Washington, D.C., issued a news release Monday announcing its support for keeping controllers on the Island.
A total of more than 950 aviation jobs, most paying an average annual salary of $100,000, could be affected.
The FAA plans to combine air traffic operations now at TRACON in Westbury and at New York Center in Ronkonkoma, into one new building to be filled with state-of-art technology for the agency's switch to NextGen, a satellite navigation system.
Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said several sites with enough land to meet FAA requirements have been suggested as possible locations for the new building.
Newark's Liberty Airport, Stewart Air Force Base in Newburgh, Orange County, and sites in Poughkeepsie and Albany are under consideration by the FAA, according to congressional testimony and members of Congress.
Last month, members of the congressional delegation sent a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation officials urging them to keep the jobs on Long Island. Both U.S. senators from New York signed the letter.
The union support came on the same day that members of Long Island's congressional delegation presented a bipartisan show of support in the effort to convince the FAA to build its new building -- to be called the Integrated Control Facility -- somewhere in Nassau or Suffolk counties.
At a news conference on the lawn in front of the FAA's TRACON facility in Westbury, congressional members joined by leaders from the The Association of a Better Long Island and the Long Island Contractors Association to say they opposed jobs leaving the Island.
"We're not Republican, not Democrat, we're Long Islanders who are determined to see that this facility remains here," said Bishop, who serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said, "This involves a lot of jobs for Long Island. It's a win-win to keep this facility on Long Island."
Reps. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) and Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills) also attended the news conference.
The FAA is scheduled to select a site for its new building by the end of the year. The New York ICF is tentatively scheduled to be operational in 2019. Some employees will be needed at the new facility as early as 2017, according to NATCA.
"If the recession has showed us anything, it's that we're not going to sit by idle while others dictate our future," said Jan Burman, president of the Association for a Better Long Island.