Senator Feinstein Asks FAA Administrator to Investigate Potential Safety Impacts of Adding Palm Springs Airspace to Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control
Apr 16 2007
Washington, DC – Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has called on the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration to study possible safety ramifications of adding Palm Springs airspace to the Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control, the busiest facility of its kind in the world.
In a letter to FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey, Senator Feinstein raises several concerns, including safety impacts of staffing shortages, changes in staff training, and the challenges of having a San Diego-based radar facility directing air traffic over the mountainous terrain near Palm Springs International Airport.
The following is the text of Senator Feinstein’s letter:
April 12, 2007
The Honorable Marion C. Blakey
Federal Aviation Administration
800 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20591
Dear Administrator Blakey:
I am writing regarding the air traffic control operations at the Palm Springs International Airport, where I understand the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) plans to consolidate radar functions at the Palm Springs Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) into the Southern California (SoCal) TRACON in San Diego, California. I am concerned that the proposed consolidation, potential staffing shortages and abbreviated training may degrade the quality and safety of the air traffic control system for this airport. I request that you look into this matter as soon as possible and provide me with further information prior to making any changes.
As you know, SoCal TRACON is already the largest TRACON in the world, servicing 62 airports and 2.3 million aircraft operations annually. I understand that under the FAA’s new contract the facility is operating with only 197 certified controllers, well short of the 260 employed in previous years. It is my understanding that the Inland Empire Division, which will inherit the Palm Springs air space, will have 27 controllers monitoring air space that a staff of 38 had monitored previously. Merging radar functions from Palm Springs will add 230,000 additional operations a year to be monitored by the SoCal TRACON.
According to information provided to my staff, apparently a similar consolidation of Palm Springs controllers was considered in SoCal TRACON’s previous consolidation in 1994 but ultimately rejected by the FAA for safety reasons relating to the unique geographic air space around Palm Springs. If this is correct, I would like to know how the proposed consolidation differs from this previous proposal.
Additionally, I would appreciate it if you could provide me with answers to the following questions:
• What staffing changes does the FAA plan to make in order to implement the proposed consolidation of the Palm Springs TRACON into the SoCal TRACON and how does this compare to current and historic staffing levels?
• Does the FAA currently have sufficient staff to meet the April 10, 2007 safety recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board at both the SoCal TRACON and at Palm Springs International Airport?
• Will SoCal TRACON have air traffic controllers experienced with the Palm Springs air space monitoring its traffic flow?
• Is the FAA considering relinquishing SoCal TRACON radar control for the Palm Springs International Airport after 9:00 pm and transferring control to the Los Angeles En Route Center in Palmdale, which would rely on a non-radar approach? If this is the case, how can a non-radar approach be as safe as one dependent on radar?
• I understand that the training process the FAA uses to certify new air traffic controllers has changed and that training will now include more technology, such as flight simulators and less real world hand-on experience. Please explain why the FAA has elected to change the nature of its training program.
I appreciate the opportunity to work with you to address these issues to ensure safe air travel in southern California. Thank you for your attention to this important matter. I look forward to your response.
United States Senator