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Long Island to keep close to 1,000 aviation jobs, Charles Schumer says

Sen.Charles Schumer speaks holding an air filtration mask

Sen.Charles Schumer speaks holding an air filtration mask in his hand, with members of TRACON behind him, during a press conference, held at the TRACON facility in Westbury on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. Credit: Steve Pfost

A new plan to replace and upgrade the air traffic control center in Westbury will keep close to 1,000 aviation jobs on Long Island, Sen. Charles Schumer announced Friday, calling it "great news" for the region.

The news comes after two years of aggressive jockeying by the local congressional delegation and the air traffic controllers union, who were desperate to keep the high-paying, high-quality positions on Long Island after the Federal Aviation Administration announced that a new proposed air traffic control center could move elsewhere, taking roughly 950 jobs with it.

The proposed Integrated Control Facility was originally slated to combine the operations of the New York Air Route Traffic Control Center in Ronkonkoma and the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control, or TRACON, facility in Westbury, and would use more efficient satellite-based systems known as NextGen for air traffic control instead of antiquated radar-based technology.

Sites in New Jersey, upstate New York and Long Island were under consideration for a time, and politicians from Pennsylvania also lobbied to bring the facility there. The FAA originally had planned to build it within 150 miles of New York City.

The updated TRACON replacement will not be the long-sought Integrated Control Facility -- but officials said that facility "is still on the table" for the future and, if it is built, it would be done on Long Island.

On Friday, the federal delegation and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association said they were pleased the jobs will stay, and that the more than 30-year-old TRACON building will be replaced.

"We pushed very, very hard on this," said Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), who added that building the new facility will create a flurry of construction jobs. "When we came together as a delegation and were pushing this, we were pushing it for Long Island. There was not one of us that was pushing it for our particular district."

"This was one of my highest priorities for Long Island, because it's so important to our economy and to families that have long roots here -- to uproot them and move would have been just disgraceful," Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.

NATCA spokesman Doug Church said in a statement the union supports the move.

On a post on its website, the FAA said the new TRACON facility is part of an initiative that "will help reduce delays and save time and money for passengers and airlines in the New York area." An FAA spokeswoman said Friday the new TRACON "will help facilitate the transition to NextGen" but she would not elaborate.

Because of budget restrictions, Schumer said, the new plan is "scaled back" -- the FAA will replace the aging Westbury site and potentially consolidate the Ronkonkoma center into that facility later, if funding is available, a Schumer spokeswoman said.

"The way they will rebuild it is so they may be able to expand it in the future," Schumer said.

The price tag for the original plan -- blending the two facilities into the Integrated Control Facility -- was about $490 million. The cost to replace TRACON in Westbury will be about $245 million, Schumer's office said.

The FAA said on its website that the new TRACON would be in a location "with the capability to expand to manage operations from other facilities in the area."

With Keith Herbert

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