FAA urged to improve maintenance of air traffic facilities

The Federal Aviation Administration must improve working conditions at the nation's air traffic control facilities, in part to help address staffing challenges, witnesses told members of a House subcommittee Tuesday.

At a hearing before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation, lawmakers and employee representatives pointed to air traffic control facilities infested with mold, asbestos, and other contaminants, all of which, they said, endanger controllers' health and their ability to perform their jobs.

Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Ill., chairman of the subcommittee, unveiled a short video of the Grand Rapids, Mich., air traffic control center, which is troubled by a leaky roof. "It's alarming and disturbing that we allow our facilities to deteriorate to this extent," he said. "No one should have to work under these conditions."

Patrick Forrey, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, and Tom Brantley, president of Professional Airways Systems Specialists, said FAA should count the safety of its employees as a matter of extreme importance, not only to protect the workforce and the public, but to maintain a workforce that has been diminishing as large numbers of experienced controllers retire.

"The agency's refusal to acknowledge that conditions in their buildings are having a detrimental effect on the controllers' health has directly caused significant suffering by their own employees and costs the taxpayers millions of dollars for misdirected projects, grievances, workers' compensation, lost productivity and inefficiency," Forrey said.

But Bruce Johnson, FAA's vice president of terminal services, testified that the agency has been analyzing buildings since 1999 to determine whether they should be upgraded or replaced. The agency has developed a proposal to consolidate the air traffic control system by 2014. The consolidation would help offset the expense of maintaining 22,000 current facilities, 420 of which house air traffic controllers.

The full committee recognized the proposal in recently approved FAA reauthorization legislation, but the bill also would require the agency to dedicate nine months to gathering input on the consolidation process from all stakeholders, including employees and labor unions.

Costello asked Johnson why the agency has not submitted higher budget requests to help address the maintenance problems at air traffic control facilities. "This shows that the agency hasn't taken the problem seriously," Costello said.

But Johnson argued that the requests have been adequate. "The money we get is the money we use every year," he said.

Still, Forrey and Brantley indicated that fixing the health and safety issues in many of the current air traffic control facilities cannot wait until the agency completes the consolidation plan. They urged the agency to be aggressive in removing mold and addressing other problems reported at facilities. They also asked FAA officials to investigate each instance where controllers are exposed to chemical contaminants.

"They have to begin doing it now and they have to begin doing it right, or the problem is going to snowball into something that is unmanageable," Brantley said.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.