House Bill Will Keep TRACON in Boise

The U.S. House voted Wednesday to block the proposed relocation of a portion of the Boise Airport's air-traffic control operation to Salt Lake City.

The House approved an amendment to a bill appropriating funds to the Federal Aviation Administration that would prohibit the FAA from spending money on the relocation, said Mark Warbis, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter, R-Idaho. If it passes the Senate and becomes law, the amendment also would apply to other relocations the FAA proposes around the country.

At issue is the Terminal Radar Approach Control system, or TRACON. This portion of the air-traffic control system handles planes between five and 65 miles from the airport.

The FAA has proposed relocating that task to Salt Lake City when the Boise Airport gets a new tower. The move would save an estimated $2.5 million over 25 years, the FAA said. The agency has said similar moves elsewhere have saved millions of dollars without affecting safety or service. Local officials and the air-traffic controllers union question the cost savings and contend safety problems could result.

An FAA spokeswoman said Wednesday that the agency stands by its position that consolidating TRACON systems can save money without sacrificing service.

Mark Griffin, president of the local chapter of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, called the amendment "a very good thing."

"I want to give my thanks to the Idaho House delegation so far, and hopefully the same thing will happen in the Senate, and we'll stop this nonsense from taking place," Griffin said.

The air-traffic controllers union says removing TRACON would reduce airport efficiency and lead to increased operating costs for commercial airlines. That could mean higher ticket prices for consumers.

Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., who proposed the amendment to stop the FAA's TRACON consolidation plans, was trying to stop the TRACON sites at Miami International, Fort Lauderdale International and Palm Beach International airports from being combined in one facility.

Otter said Wednesday that the FAA's cost analysis was rudimentary and badly flawed. It failed to account for all personnel costs and other potential cost increases, he said. In fact, Otter told his House colleagues, "the planned move will likely result in greater costs over that 25-year period."

"We aren't talking about decreasing the size of government or lowering our costs here," he said. "Until FAA can articulate real cost savings and a national strategy for TRACON co-location and consolidation, we ought not go down this path any further."

The amended appropriations bill will go to the Senate.

Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, who is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, supports the amendment, his spokesman said.

"The House amendment showed it had strong, nationwide support ... and that really helps its chances in the Senate," said Dan Whiting, a spokesman for Craig.

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