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FAA air traffic control tower site still up in the air

This file photo shows an Air Traffic Control

This file photo shows an Air Traffic Control Tower at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip on May 18, 2011. Credit: Ed Betz

A decision on where to build an estimated $95 million air traffic control facility is about a year late and still likely months away, but members of the local congressional delegation are optimistic it will come to Long Island, saving nearly 1,000 aviation jobs.

There is no official word on a location for the state-of-the-art Federal Aviation Administration facility. But Sen. Charles Schumer, a member of the federal delegation that has pushed over the last few years for the facility to be built on Long Island, said it remains the front-runner to be home to the New York Integrated Control Facility. It will employ satellite-based systems known as NextGen for air-traffic control instead of radar-based technology.

"I have a very high degree of confidence it will stay on Long Island," Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. "But the process is going to take a while. The first goal is to keep the jobs on Long Island, and goal two is to have the most modern facility possible."

Schumer and other delegation members, in a bid to keep high-paying aviation industry jobs here, have toured potential sites with FAA administrator Michael Huerta and courted federal officials at news conferences.

The new site would blend the operations of two air-traffic control hubs already on Long Island -- the New York Air Route Traffic Control Center in Ronkonkoma and the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control facility in Westbury -- to enhance efficiency.

The region is home to about 950 aviation jobs that would move off the Island if the FAA decided to build elsewhere -- the agency has said the new site must be within 150 miles of Manhattan and located in New York State.

Schumer and Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said federal budget sequestration in 2013 played a major part in stalling the project.

"Sequestration took quite a hit on the FAA budget, so they could not, in good faith, plan for a nine-figure facility when they were furloughing employees," Bishop said. "So now that we have a two-year budget agreement in place that provides adequate funding for the FAA, planning for the project has resumed."

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union representing controllers on Long Island, last week re-emphasized its support of keeping the more than 600 aviation safety professionals it represents here.

"We support keeping these controller jobs on Long Island," communications director Doug Church said in an email.

Schumer and Bishop said an announcement on the location could still be months away. But Wednesday at an unrelated news conference at the Terminal Radar Approach Control -- TRACON -- facility in Westbury, Schumer repeated a promise to air traffic controllers on Long Island.

"They do a great job and I've made a pledge to them -- they're building a new tower somewhere and it's going to be on Long Island. That's my pledge," Schumer said.


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