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LI leaders lobby FAA to keep local jobs

Members of the Long Island congressional delegation are trying to persuade Federal Aviation Administration officials to keep hundreds of air traffic controller jobs on the Island.

Thursday at a hearing of the House subcommittee on aviation in Washington, an FAA official described a plan to consolidate air traffic control centers across the country as part of the government's shift to a new satellite-based system called NextGen.

The plan's centerpiece calls for two air traffic control centers, now in Ronkonkoma and Westbury, to be merged into a new, state-of-the-art control center -- to be built at a yet-undisclosed location -- that could be a model for future consolidation nationwide. About 430 air traffic controllers work at the Island's two facilities.

"The goal here is to keep the facility on Long Island," said Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), a member of the House Transportation Committee. "There is a significant number of high-paying jobs we don't want to see leave Long Island."

"I'm very concerned about the local jobs at stake here," said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola). "Long Island's rich aviation history and pool of skilled workers make it the perfect place for air traffic control of our region's airports."

Bishop said members of the Long Island congressional delegation have met with FAA officials to discuss the proposed changes.

According to a memorandum prepared for the committee hearing, the FAA plans to address concerns about old and dilapidated air traffic control facilities in New York by building a new air traffic center, to be called Integrated Control Facility.

The new facility would have controllers who deal with high-altitude flights, currently done by controllers in Ronkonkoma, and controllers who handle planes on terminal approach into the air space, now based at TRACON in Westbury.

Packed with new technology, the proposed facility would serve as a blueprint for what the FAA would like to do nationwide to improve air traffic flow.

The FAA hasn't said where the new building will be, but plans submitted to Congress call for an air traffic control facility in Newark. Bishop said federal legislators have been told it will be within a 150-mile radius of New York City.

Bishop said members of the Long Island delegation are preparing a letter that will be sent to FAA officials next week, urging them to build the air traffic control center on Long Island.

"We're going to work diligently to keep the facility on Long Island," Bishop said.

Should the new facility be built on the Island, Bishop said he doesn't think any air traffic controller jobs would be lost.

The FAA reauthorization bill gives the agency until June 14 to report to Congress its air traffic control consolidation plans.

Obama's proposed 2013 budget includes $95 million for the facility, but that amount could change, Bishop said Thursday.

FAA officials in New York were unavailable for comment Thursday.

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