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FAA surveys LI workers about relocation

An FAA air traffic manager in Westbury.

An FAA air traffic manager in Westbury. Credit: Newsday/Kathy Kmonicek, 2002

Despite a full-court press by Long Island's congressional delegation, and opposition from the air traffic controllers union, the Federal Aviation Administration has not given up on possibly moving hundreds of aviation jobs off Long Island.

The FAA is surveying employees who work at radar buildings in Westbury and Ronkonkoma to gauge attitude about the possibility that the agency would permanently move their jobs elsewhere, maybe to the Albany metropolitan area.

The agency said it is using an online survey to test its plans to build a new regional air traffic control building that would replace two older buildings in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

The first question on the survey asks workers if, given financial incentives, they would consider moving off Long Island to "a lower-cost area." Other questions ask what factors would keep employees from moving as soon as 2017, and where the workers would prefer the new building. The choices are Nassau, Suffolk or the Albany area.

FAA officials said no decision has been made on where the facility would be built. As the agency continues shaping plans for a new building as part of its change to a satellite-based aviation navigation system called NextGen, employees will be included in the planning, the officials said.

"As we plan for the new facility, the agency is engaging with stakeholders, including labor organizations, to establish metrics and other criteria," said Kathleen Bergen, an FAA spokeswoman. "While the FAA has completed some preliminary work for the new facility, a final location has not been determined."

About 600 controllers now work at the two FAA radar facilities in Westbury and Ronkonkoma.

A spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association declined to comment. But in May, the union's president, Paul Rinaldi, said the union members wanted the new building on Long Island, where most controllers "have deep roots."

Long Island could lose more than 950 aviation jobs if the FAA decided to move regional air traffic control centers off the Island.

As part of its switch to NextGen, the FAA will use New York as its first site for construction of an integrated control facility, where controllers would handle both air traffic for flights beginning or ending in the New York region and higher-altitude flights passing through New York's airspace.

Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the FAA began making the questionnaire available to employees a few weeks ago. Workers have until the end of the month to complete it, he said.

"Basically, they're soliciting the opinions and the input of the workers to see what their feelings are about the facility remaining on Long Island or assessing their level of receptivity to it being moved off Long Island," Bishop said.

Efforts to persuade the agency to keep the FAA workers on Long Island -- many of which are experienced air traffic controllers who earn more than $100,000 a year -- drew bipartisan support from members of Long Island's congressional delegation and from both U.S. senators.

In July, Sen. Charles Schumer toured a potential site of the new facility at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, along with FAA Acting Administrator Michael Huerta. Huerta has announced that New Jersey had been eliminated as a possible location for the new NextGen building.

"As I have made perfectly clear to administrator Huerta, Long Island is the only spot for the new ICF," Schumer said last week. "The FAA including its Long Island employees in the process should only improve Long Island's allure."

The FAA expects to make a decision on where to build the $95 million facility by the end of this year or early next year, Bishop said.

"I think this is part of the due diligence that the FAA is engaged in," Bishop said. "I think they want to be able to say they explored all the opinions. They want to have a data set they can point to."

In the preamble of the 24-question survey, the FAA spells out financial impacts for employees whose jobs are permanently relocated. Some workers could face the loss of cost-of-living or locality pay because of a job move.

The survey also spells out that relocation incentives for some workers could be up to 100 percent of base salary, and air traffic controllers and traffic management specialists could be entitled to a relocation payment of up to $27,000.

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