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FAA: ‘No contract for Tracon consolidation’

By Amy Moore

The News staff writer

For the next five years, Southeast Texans do not have to worry about sharing in the cost of operating the Southeast Texas Regional Airport tower.

Congressman Ted Poe announced Wednesday that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) agreed to not contract-out or cost-share the airport services at the Southeast Texas Regional Airport for the next five years and to continue to meet with community stakeholders and pilots during a consolidation process that will move radar control to Houston.

In January 2007, the FAA announced a plan to consolidate nearly 50 Terminal Radar Approach Control facility (TRACON) systems in more than 30 states throughout the country.

The TRACON system guides planes within a 50-mile radius of the airport on their final approaches. In many regions throughout the country, the TRACON oversees the approaches of flights in and out of the airport in which the system is physically located, but also for flights in and out of smaller regional airports.

The FAA plans to begin the consolidation of the Southeast Texas Regional Airport facility with the Houston facility Thursday, April 10.

Airport manager Hal Ross said the announcement of the agreement worries him because the FAA said that with the consolidation, no local air traffic controllers would lose their jobs and there would be no plan to privatize or contract out control of the tower, which could eventually cost residents money.

“I’m concerned about the loss of any jobs in the area,” he said. “In all the talks we had with the FAA, they said they would not downsize that would put us in a category to privatize. The tower will still operate, just not as a TRACON.”

Ross explained that local controllers will still control ground movement and landings but as aircraft come through the terminal radar approach area, Houston will guide them.

In a letter to Poe, the FAA pledged to continue to provide services to smaller planes flying under the Visual Flight Rules, and continue to provide full practice approach services, including Airport Surveillance Radar approaches.

Poe led the effort against the proposed consolidation from the onset by passing legislation to delay the initial consolidation and calling on the FAA to hold public and private meetings with the community and local pilots.

“The Southeast Texas Regional Airport will continue to operation with the utmost concern for the safety of air traffic,” Ross said. “Because of our concerns we expressed to the FAA, they will have more meetings with the public community to make sure if anything comes up take measure to continue to maintain safety of the airspace.”

The consolidation affects the Orange County Airport, Beaumont Municipal Airport, Hawthorne Field in Kountze and the Winnie Airport since approach control operations for those airports are performed at the regional airport.