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Chuck Schumer: Westbury's TRACON funding 'should come first'

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday he will

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday he will use his clout in Congress "to make sure Long Island is at the top of the list" for upgrades for the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control in Westbury. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

President Donald Trump's proposed 2020 budget should fund at least $80 million in desperately needed upgrades for the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control in Westbury, which oversees the nation's busiest air traffic, Sen. Charles Schumer said Tuesday.

The administration's proposed budget, unveiled last week, allocates $7.8 billion for air traffic control facilities nationwide to "provide safe, secure, and cost effective air traffic services to commercial and private aviation."

While the Department of Transportation budget proposal does not specify which air traffic centers would receive the funds, Schumer said Tuesday that Westbury's TRACON badly needs more money to keep it operational and protected against future cuts.

"We are here to say that Long Island should come first," Schumer said at a news conference at the Westbury TRACON. "We are the busiest area in the country and we need the dollars … I will use all my clout in the Congress to make sure Long Island is at the top of the list and gets the funding that it needs."

In a statement, the Federal Aviation Administration said the aging Westbury facility had been "reconfigured a number of times to accommodate modern systems" but is not "ideally designed to accommodate state-of-the-art equipment and the most efficient work flow."

The FAA added that it had begun plans to build an addition to Westbury TRACON, but that the costs associated with the design had exceeded the original budget.

"We have been working to identify alternatives to the original transition strategy that will be cost-effective to taxpayers while meeting our critical safety needs," the FAA said. "While we revisit our requirements for the addition, we are taking additional steps to maintain the viability of the current facility."

With a staff of roughly 400, Westbury's TRACON is responsible for guiding and monitoring about 3,000 flights daily in and out of Kennedy Airport, LaGuardia, Newark Liberty, Teterboro and dozens of other regional airports, including Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma and Republic Airport in Farmingdale.

But labor leaders said the 40-year-old facility off Stewart Avenue is outdated and needs to be modernized.

The $80 million would fund construction of a new two-story, 20,000-square-foot building to be the facility's primary air traffic control and equipment rooms.

Funds also would be allocated for new equipment to protect against cyberthreat intrusions, computer systems, repurposing of existing equipment and extended training, including takeoff safety reviews.

Kevin Maney, president of the local National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said the "sustainment project" would bridge the gap between the antiquated existing facility and a permanent replacement of the Westbury center.

"We have the most complex air space in the world," Maney said. "We should have the most up-to-date air traffic control facility and equipment available to go along with that."

Long Island's other TRACON facility, in Ronkonkoma, Schumer said, is more modern and less in need of upgrades.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran endorsed the funding request, arguing it would keep the skies over Long Island safe while creating construction jobs and preserving existing positions.

"We need our voices to be heard loud and clear," said Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen. "Otherwise this facility will languish and be left behind."

In 2012, the FAA first proposed merging the Westbury and Ronkonkoma TRACONs into a single site for the New York metropolitan region. Sites in New Jersey, upstate New York and Long Island were under consideration for the integrated facility before elected officials, including Schumer, successfully lobbied the FAA in 2014 to abandon those plans.

 Staff at the two Long Island TRACON centers were furloughed, or worked without pay, during the 35-day government shutdown from Dec. 22, 2018, through Jan. 25, 2019, over Trump's request for congressional Democrats to provide $5.7 billion to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

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