PROVO -- The Federal Aviation Administration has taken some of the steam out of the momentum behind a statewide effort to bring a new radar system to the Point of the Mountain to benefit airports from Salt Lake City to Spanish Fork.
In a letter sent last month to the Salt Lake City Department of Airports by David B. Johnson, FAA vice president of terminal services, the FAA reiterated its stance that the cost of additional radar outweighs the benefits.
The letter is doubly troubling to Utah's efforts because Johnson said it was written at the behest of new U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters.
Peters was at the center of momentum that seemed to build late last year in favor of the radar system when she accepted an invitation from Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, last fall during her nomination process. She agreed to visit Utah early this year and inspect the situation herself. The visit is still on, according to Hatch's office, but the timing of the letter is ominous.
"That certainly was not the response we hoped for," said Steve Domino, director of planning for the Salt Lake City Department of Airports. "We certainly hoped Secretary Peters should come out here so we can explain the need to her directly."
Provo Mayor Lewis Billings was concerned the letter signaled that it is too late to change her mind.
"The new secretary of transportation had a letter sent that supports the FAA position lock, stock and barrel," Billings recently told the Provo City Council. "That position is that they don't need further study to know if radar is necessary.
"Give me a break, pal. Think of the people who flew into mountains who could have been saved if someone with radar could have said, 'Turn 40 degrees left."'
Provo initially asked for the radar for its municipal airport. Now Billings, Utah's congressional delegation and other groups around the state have rallied to the idea of radar at the Point of the Mountain.
At that location, the system would give Salt Lake International Airport full redundancy for its systems and cover a blind spot below 8,000 feet in Utah Valley caused the Wasatch Mountains.
Air traffic controllers also can't see aircraft below 500 feet at Salt Lake Airport No. 2 in West Jordan.
The Salt Lake City Department of Airports threw its support behind the proposal in a November letter sent to Peters.
"In order to maintain adequate margins of safety for aircraft operating in the area, large areas of airspace must be protected to manage the air traffic operating" along the Wasatch Front, wrote Russell Pack, interim executive director of the Salt Lake City Department of Airports.
Billings chafed at the FAA letter because it again refers to analysis that show Provo doesn't qualify for the radar. Provo has joined Salt Lake, the delegation, the Utah Air Travel Commission and other groups asking the FAA to analyze placing the radar at the Point of the Mountain.
"Is it important to us to have it at the Provo airport? No," Billings said. "This is not about bringing jobs to Provo. Experts recommend it go to the Point of the Mountain. Then it meets our needs and gives Salt Lake full redundancy."
The letter's reference to Provo also alarmed Salt Lake's Domino.
"We need to be very clear and articulate all the benefits derived from the radar, not just Provo," he said. "This is a radar that provides significant benefits for Salt Lake International."
The FAA letter does state that funding is unavailable for installation of a system that would support all of the Wasatch Front metropolitan area airports. In August 2001, the FAA recommended a second radar sensor at the Point of the Mountain, but before funding was allocated the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, caused a decline in air traffic and halted the process.
"Aviation activity has since rebounded and the Salt Lake City terminal airspace along the Wasatch Front has more traffic now than it did before 9/11," Salt Lake's Pack wrote in his November letter to the FAA.
Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, whose district includes residents of Salt Lake Valley and Utah Valley, said Utah's delegation might have to look at going around the FAA.
"Folks at the FAA are just not getting it," he said. "We're disappointed. We may have to legislate something. It might need to be earmarks attached to other bills." E-mail:
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