Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Port of Moses Lake asks Federal Aviation Administration to continue radar station, keep jobs

MOSES LAKE – The Grant County commissioners are asking the Federal Aviation Administration to continue operating the radar station at the Grant County International Airport.

The commissioners sent a formal letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta to allow the airport’s Terminal Radar Approach Control, or TRACON, to remain open in the face of cuts to infrastructure around the country.

The letter outlines the importance of the system and its operators to the Port of Moses Lake, Air Force, and US Forest Service. All have air tanker fleets operating at the airport.

“The local TRACON staff are familiar with the Forest Service’s largest firefighting aircraft in our region. It is obvious to the generalist, as well as the specialist, that they operate faster, safer and more efficiently with local controllers,” The commissioners said in their letter.

Under Section 804 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which Congress passed in 2012, the removal of the older ground-based TRACON system is for the new NextGEN satellite-based radar system.

NextGEN is being implemented nationwide in stages through 2025 and has the potential to shorten routes, increase efficiency in both time and fuel, reduce traffic delays and permit controllers to monitor and manage aircraft with greater safety margins, according to the FAA.

If the TRACON system is shut down, the new system would be operated out of either Seattle or Spokane as a means of consolidating manpower and lowering overall costs, said Port of Moses Lake Business Director Richard Hanover.

Since the Grant County International Airport is not offering airline service, and is more of a hub for flight testing, military training, education and industrial use, preserving the current system keeps the jobs. It would aid the airport in becoming an aerospace hub, Port of Moses Lake Executive Director Jeffrey Bishop said.

“The beauty of what we have now is we employ air-traffic controllers and radar operators who are cross-trained in both areas, so we have well-qualified crews manning the tower providing an extra layer of safety for both pilots and ground crews. With Mitsubishi using Grant County as a test site for their new passenger jet, changing the radar configuration puts it and other potential test opportunities in serious jeopardy,” Bishop said.

Big Bend Community College President, Dr. Terry Leas sent a letter to Administrator Huerta on behalf of the port, saying the current system is vital to the students currently enrolled for aviation training to become pilots.

“The unique nature of the training at the airport has created what is arguably the Commercial Pilot Program’s greatest asset: new pilots garner experience in the airspace while conducting advanced operations, which are not feasible at other facilities,” Leas wrote.

The FAA should reach a final decision before the end of the year.


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