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FAA Shutdown Hurting NY Area Airport Projects, Workers

Thursday, August 04, 2011 - 02:27 PM

(New York, NY - WNYC) With Congress in recess and the Federal Aviation Administration's partial shutdown grinding on, it seems more likely that 74,000 affected workers won't be getting a paycheck until September. The U.S. Department of Transportation says about 4,000 FAA workers have been furloughed and 70,000 construction workers put out of work by the dispute over the FAA's funding re-authorization, now two weeks old.

Dan Stefko, president of the Eastern Region Engineers & Architects at the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, says he and his co-workers are hurting. "Anger, dismay, disappointment and worry" are the words Stefko used to describe his feeling and those of his co-workers.

"All of us have mortgages we have to pay, we all have car payments. My members have families that they have to feed. A lot of them are worried. There's fear," Stefko said.

The FAA shut down after the GOP-led Congress inserted a policy change into a routine funding authorization. Senate Democrats balked, accusing Republicans of trying to gain leverage in a larger dispute over labor law.  Though the President said Wednesday he expects the dispute to be resolved by week's end, neither party has shown signs of relenting.

Meanwhile, more than 250 projects around the U.S. have been halted. LaGuardia Airport in New York has been hit particularly hard. Here's a sample of its suspended projects:

  • New runway status lights to let pilots know they're on the correct runway.
  • Demolition of an old traffic control tower that is blocking the sight lines of controllers in a new tower when they look down to monitor certain taxiway intersections.
  • The placement of $10 million worth of security bollards around the Central Terminal building.

Beyond LaGuardia, the region's major radar control facility in Garden City, Long Island, is not getting hardware and software upgrades to give air traffic controllers better information when guiding planes into and out of New York's airspace.

The development of NextGen technology, a long-term project, has also been stalled. The program aims to replace ground-based tracking of aircraft to satellite and GPS tracking. "That will will allow more precise routes and greater efficiency and cost-savings," Sefko said. "That means shorter routes for the flying public."

At JFK Airport, a major taxiway is not getting its potholes filled and old asphalt replaced. And half-completed improvements to an air traffic controller's break room have exiled controllers, who have strict rest requirements, to a cramped office.

At Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, a $20 million rehab of two of its runways has been stopped.

Stefko said the shutdown's timing is particularly bad because summer is the prime building season. "This is the best time to make concrete progress--literally," he said.

 

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