Air traffic controllers in Westbury protested a planned move to Philadelphia. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) demanded that the FAA keep them on Long Island. NewsdayTV’s Cecilia Dowd reports. Credit: Anthony Florio; File Footage; Photo Credit: AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File; AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File

The FAA is planning to transfer about 30 air traffic controllers from its facility in Westbury to Philadelphia in September as part of a realignment of airspace in New York and New Jersey.

The Federal Aviation Administration told its staff in February of 2022 that it planned to reassign about 100 square-miles of airspace across the Northeast to meet rising demand in New York and “mitigate significant passenger delays that have been forecasted,” FAA officials said in a statement Monday.

The Westbury facility, since 1981, has navigated air traffic from Kennedy Airport, LaGuardia, Newark Liberty, Teterboro and dozens of other regional airports, including Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip and Republic Airport in East Farmingdale. The facility, known as TRACON, employs 325 workers, including 176 air traffic controllers.

FAA officials are moving the Newark airspace sector to Philadelphia. That includes the 30 air traffic controllers who cover Newark from Long Island, who received letters last month informing them of their relocation.

“The number of authorized controllers at the New York TRACON is not changing,” FAA officials said in a statement “We are meeting all collective bargaining agreement requirements and are committed to collaborating with our labor partners throughout this process.”

But union leaders and families members gathered at the TRACON facility in Westbury Monday to protest the moves, joined by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who said he had an agreement with the FAA in 2020 not to relocate the Westbury controllers.

Joseph Segretto, the local air traffic controller union president, said the realignment would uproot families and add risk by separating controllers who are used to working side by side and consulting with one another. He said the FAA had promised controllers would not have to relocate, but said 30 of the controllers who cover Newark received letters saying they would be forced to move to Philadelphia for up to two years.

“These controllers need to remain inside this building,” Segretto said. “We're going to increase an unknown risk into the system and we need to minimize and keep delays down on that stuff by keeping everybody together in the same building.”

FAA officials did not respond to additional inquiries.

Matthew Ratto, an air traffic controller for eight years who lives in Brightwaters, said his family cannot relocate due to therapy his four-year-old daughter Maggie receives for cerebral palsy. Her twin sister Elizabeth and 7-year-old brother Thomas are also in school along with his wife’s job.

“It's really weighed heavily on us, and we have to make a decision, what's best for our family going forward. Ultimately, leaving Long Island is a non-starter,” he said.

“I would hope that the FAA has worked with other employees who have similar situations or hardships and help them find places to go to be more accommodating.”

The FAA has been exploring a realignment of its air traffic controllers since 2007 to reduce congestion and delays but paused the realignment program in 2012 and again in 2020. They have since bypassed two prior deadlines to relocate the controllers, Schumer said.

Schumer said he would fight the transfer and may draft legislation tied to the FAA budget funding to keep workers on Long Island.

“I expect to win this fight,” Schumer said. “My job is simple — FAA keep your word. No one leaves Long Island if they want to stay here.”

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