FAA Plan for Boise Airport on Hold

Mar. 22 -- The Federal Aviation Administration has put a temporary hold on plans to move part of Boise Airport's air-traffic control system to Salt Lake City, observers said Tuesday.

Critics of the move were pleased with the announcement, since they had expected the federal agency to finalize the transfer this week.

Instead, FAA officials will try to address concerns raised by the proposal during a meeting Thursday with airport administrators, according to an agency spokesman.

The agency may have been bowing to political pressure from the Idaho congressional delegation.

Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig voiced his opposition to the move directly to FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakley last week, said Craig spokesman Mike Tracy.

"Larry spoke with the administrator by phone and was told that the (Thursday) meeting will be informational and not to deliver a final decision," Tracy said.

Tracy added that Craig and other delegation members will have representatives at the 11:30 a.m. meeting.

The FAA reportedly wants to move the Terminal Radar Approach Control system -- or TRACON -- currently located at Boise Airport to Salt Lake City in hopes of saving $5 million on the proposed $22 million cost of a new air-traffic control tower in Boise.

The TRACON is the part of the three-tiered air traffic control system that ensures that departing planes are on course and at safe altitudes, and that arriving traffic is properly positioned to land.

An internal FAA study in 2005 showed that Boise Airport was one of 15 facilities scheduled to have its TRACON relocated this year.

Critics of the move say moving the TRACON could result in higher operating costs for commercial and private air traffic, produce higher ticket prices for air travelers and potentially represent safety hazards because a Salt Lake City TRACON would be monitoring 30 miles of Boise air space from a location 300 miles away.

FAA spokesman Greg Martin said those concerns are similar to those voiced at other communities faced with the loss of a local TRACON.

"We have a good, safe track record of doing these consolidations over the last 15 years," Martin said. "And given the opportunity, we can walk through these issues and cite any number of examples where we've maintained the same high level of safety, that operational efficiency has been improved, and we've been able to accommodate special use and operations unique to that area."

Martin called criticisms raised by the local chapter of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association "red herrings."

Reaction to the news that FAA officials are coming to Boise only to talk was mixed.

"I'm hopeful that they'll come with an open mind, but I think they're just going to try and sell their point of view, which is what I would expect them to do," said Mark Griffin, president of the Boise chapter of the air traffic controllers union.

Tim Griffin, owner of Jet Stream Aviation, a Boise flight school, and no relation to the Boise air traffic controller, called the news a "small victory" for an community that was convinced the FAA planned to use Thursday's meeting to announce the TRACON was headed for Salt Lake City.

"I think we managed to put up enough red flags to at least to educate the FAA about the situation in Boise," said Griffin, who worries that the move would make it more difficult to practice special approach landings he's required to teach his flight students.

Michael S. Pape, president of the Idaho Business Aviation Association which represents area corporate pilots and other industry members, said a "temporary reprieve is an improvement" over the situation a week ago.

"We thought the FAA was coming to say the TRACON was moving, but we couldn't get a straight answer," Pape said.

In a letter to Idaho Republican Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter last week, the IBAA lamented that "there has never been an attempt to explore the impact on those who will be affected most by this move, the flying public."

"If the Boise TRACON is moved to Salt Lake City," the letter said, "controllers that are familiar with the unique terrain and the operational peculiarities associated with a traffic mix this varied will become a thing of the past. Familiarity with the Boise operation will be lost. Air traffic delays and increased collision potential will be the real results of the new environment."C

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