The New York TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control) facility in...

The New York TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control) facility in Westbury on Feb. 13, 2023. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Despite significant outcry from elected officials and a union group, the Federal Aviation Administration is once again demanding air traffic controllers relocate from Westbury to a Philadelphia facility this summer.

The issue is a replay of last year when the FAA tried to push through a similar order but later dropped it following opposition from legislators and air traffic controllers. 

“They made false promises. they promised nobody would be forced to move, that N90 [Westbury facility] would stay the level that it’s at, and we would have maintained the same number of controllers,” said Steve Costa, a representative for Newark air space at the local chapter of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

Despite a $100,000 incentive package, union officials have said the 18 controllers being ordered to relocate are unable to do so for varying personal reasons, including family, medical and other obligations. 

Costa, an air traffic controller, is not directly being asked to move but would offer to replace another colleague in a tougher spot.

“I've been divorced for five years so it's already challenging enough for me to see my children. Now you're going to make my schedule that much more difficult,” said Costa, a father of two.

There are currently 33 experienced controllers in Westbury working the Newark air sector but FAA officials previously said 24 were being ordered to relocate to Philadelphia. Seven had accepted the offer but one backed out, leaving 18 who fear losing their jobs if they don't uproot, according to union officials. .

FAA officials said the plan was expected to improve efficiency and safety as it shifted Newark operations from the Westbury facility. N90 oversees one of the most complex airspaces in the nation, including major airports — LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark — which are within a 10-mile radius of each other. It's also in charge of several smaller terminals, including Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip and Teterboro Airport in New Jersey.

In a statement, an FAA spokesperson said, " The transfer to Philadelphia is one of several significant measures the FAA has taken to relieve congestion on behalf of the flying public in the New York airspace.”

Although the FAA has said it is ensuring operations are adequately staffed, Costa is concerned staff reductions could potentially hamper operations. 

Several congressmen, including Reps. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and Anthony D'Esposito, (R-Island Park), are fighting to stop the plan. So far, their efforts have been unsuccessful. 

“To have people relocated out of here to go elsewhere, doesn't seem to make much sense. There are opportunities throughout the country for us to find air traffic controllers who are interested in relocating to the East Coast,” D'Esposito said.

D'Esposito said the transfer would be “really detrimental to families,” including for one controller, Matthew Ratto, of Brightwaters, whose 6-year-old daughter receives services for cerebral palsy and would have a hard time finding medical services as well as a similar support network. 

Rep. Suozzi threatened to hold back support for the FAA.

" I don't know how they can expect us to help them if they're going to treat our people so poorly,” Suozzi said. “I was involved with this years ago, and the FAA administrator at the time had agreed that he would not try and force people to leave … The idea of forcing people to uproot their families after having located here is just not fair.”

There are currently 263 employees working at New York TRACON, including 137 certified air traffic controllers, according to Mike Shanahan, vice president at the local NATCA and an air traffic controller. There are 83 air traffic trainees, he said, and six are currently partially qualified to work in some operational roles.

Despite significant outcry from elected officials and a union group, the Federal Aviation Administration is once again demanding air traffic controllers relocate from Westbury to a Philadelphia facility this summer.

The issue is a replay of last year when the FAA tried to push through a similar order but later dropped it following opposition from legislators and air traffic controllers. 

“They made false promises. they promised nobody would be forced to move, that N90 [Westbury facility] would stay the level that it’s at, and we would have maintained the same number of controllers,” said Steve Costa, a representative for Newark air space at the local chapter of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

Despite a $100,000 incentive package, union officials have said the 18 controllers being ordered to relocate are unable to do so for varying personal reasons, including family, medical and other obligations. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The FAA is once again demanding air traffic controllers relocate from Westbury to a Philadelphia facility this summer.
  • Opposition from legislators and air traffic controllers caused the FAA to drop a similar order last year. The same groups oppose the current plan.
  • Despite a $100,000 incentive package, union officials have said the 18 controllers being ordered to relocate are unable to for varying personal reasons.

Costa, an air traffic controller, is not directly being asked to move but would offer to replace another colleague in a tougher spot.

“I've been divorced for five years so it's already challenging enough for me to see my children. Now you're going to make my schedule that much more difficult,” said Costa, a father of two.

There are currently 33 experienced controllers in Westbury working the Newark air sector but FAA officials previously said 24 were being ordered to relocate to Philadelphia. Seven had accepted the offer but one backed out, leaving 18 who fear losing their jobs if they don't uproot, according to union officials. .

FAA officials said the plan was expected to improve efficiency and safety as it shifted Newark operations from the Westbury facility. N90 oversees one of the most complex airspaces in the nation, including major airports — LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark — which are within a 10-mile radius of each other. It's also in charge of several smaller terminals, including Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip and Teterboro Airport in New Jersey.

In a statement, an FAA spokesperson said, " The transfer to Philadelphia is one of several significant measures the FAA has taken to relieve congestion on behalf of the flying public in the New York airspace.”

Although the FAA has said it is ensuring operations are adequately staffed, Costa is concerned staff reductions could potentially hamper operations. 

Several congressmen, including Reps. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and Anthony D'Esposito, (R-Island Park), are fighting to stop the plan. So far, their efforts have been unsuccessful. 

“To have people relocated out of here to go elsewhere, doesn't seem to make much sense. There are opportunities throughout the country for us to find air traffic controllers who are interested in relocating to the East Coast,” D'Esposito said.

D'Esposito said the transfer would be “really detrimental to families,” including for one controller, Matthew Ratto, of Brightwaters, whose 6-year-old daughter receives services for cerebral palsy and would have a hard time finding medical services as well as a similar support network. 

Rep. Suozzi threatened to hold back support for the FAA.

" I don't know how they can expect us to help them if they're going to treat our people so poorly,” Suozzi said. “I was involved with this years ago, and the FAA administrator at the time had agreed that he would not try and force people to leave … The idea of forcing people to uproot their families after having located here is just not fair.”

There are currently 263 employees working at New York TRACON, including 137 certified air traffic controllers, according to Mike Shanahan, vice president at the local NATCA and an air traffic controller. There are 83 air traffic trainees, he said, and six are currently partially qualified to work in some operational roles.

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