FAA: Overtime, Errors Cut at New York Terminal Radar Approach Control

Acting on a report it issued in June that detailed labor and other problems at the air traffic control facility in Westbury, the Federal Aviation Administration said yesterday it has eliminated "artificially inflated" overtime, reduced controllers' errors and saved more than $1.4 million.

The FAA also said an independent analysis of the facility's staffing levels shows that it "has more controllers than current regional air traffic volume requires." A total of 206 controllers work at the facility, known as the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control, or Tracon. Union officials want it staffed by 270 controllers.

Staffing levels at Tracon have been a major source of friction between the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. The agency and the union are engaged in highly contentious negotiations for a new contract for the country's 15,000 controllers.

The agency said "operational errors" at the facility have decreased from 119 in February 2005 to just three in December. But Phil Barbarello, a union spokesman, called the FAA's claims that errors have sharply declined "a bold-faced lie."

Barbarello said that since July, there have been 46 such errors, up from nine between July 2004 and January 2005. He blamed the errors on a shortage of controllers.

An operational error is a failure by an air traffic controller to keep passenger planes as far apart as required by the FAA. On a final approach, for example, planes must be more than three miles apart horizontally and more than 1,000 feet vertically.

Controllers at Tracon guide planes in and out of the metropolitan area's busy airports, airspace that is widely considered among the most complex in the country.

Barbarello said the union had filed suit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to compel the FAA to disclose how much it had spent to study Tracon. Barbarello said he believed the FAA held a press conference yesterday to defuse the lawsuit as well as an announcement the union plans to make today related to contract talks.

FAA officials denied the assertion. "We thought this was an appropriate time to update" what has been done since the report was issued, said Bobby Sturgell, the FAA's deputy administrator.

The FAA said that through scheduling changes, overtime at Tracon has decreased from $360,000 in June 2005 to $73,000 in December, a six-month savings of $1.4 million. Barbarello said, however, such savings have not been achieved. "They just have less people on every shift," he said.

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