FAA Plan to Move Radar Approach System Doesn't Fly in Boise

The Treasure Valley aviation community is opposing an FAA cost-cutting plan that many say may actually cost taxpayers more, slow traffic at Boise Airport, raise local ticket prices and potentially compromise safety.

"If you move the TRACON, opposite-direction approach landings could go away, because a controller in Salt Lake City isn't going to deviate from standard operating procedures and contact Boise to see if such a landing is possible," Griffin said. "So efficiency is traded for standardization."

For a commercial airliner, more flying time means increased operating costs that could find their way to consumers through higher ticket prices.

"It costs about $100 a minute to fly a Boeing 737," Griffin said. "Southwest Airline's entire fleet is 737s. That's going to mean higher ticket prices because somebody has to pay for that."

Tim Griffin, no relation to the Boise controller, operates Jet Stream Aviation, a Boise-area flight school that is required to teach opposite-approach landings. He worries that moving the TRACON will mean Salt Lake City radar operators will be less inclined to work with the tower in Boise so that his students can practice those landings.

"On days when we can't do it, it will mean having to cancel a lesson," he said. "That means we lose money and the student's training takes longer."

Political opposition

Griffin, the air traffic controller, credits the Idaho congressional delegation for applying enough political heat to keep the FAA from acting.

In a letter dated Jan. 11, all four of Idaho's federal lawmakers told the FAA they found "little savings opportunities" connected with moving the Boise TRACON and wondered how the local facility could be moved when other airports in the region that handle fewer departures are getting new or refurbished TRACONs.

The delegation also said it had "several concerns about safety," noting that a knowledge of the area by radar operators was "critical," and that safety is enhanced if a TRACON operator can "simply look out the window" during bad weather.

The FAA responded with a letter dated Feb. 16 that said agency officials had met with staffers for Idaho Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter.

It concluded: "As we explained, we are working to complete an analysis on the matter. As soon as the analysis is finished, we will let you know."

"It was the first response we had received from the FAA, even though we contacted the agency via e-mail about the issue in late November or early December," said Otter spokesman Mark Warbis. "The agency has given us no further indication of what it plans to do."

Bieter added: "The Treasure Valley is one of the fastest-growing regions of the country. Our airport is seeing record passenger traffic. So it really doesn't make sense to shift a crucial part of our air-traffic control system to Salt Lake.

"It will reduce our runway capacity; it could have safety implications. And in the end, it probably won't save money."


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