Air traffic controllers say poor maintenance of their aging work places has hampered and harmed them and could endanger the flying public.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which employs the controllers, has not given priority to maintaining and preserving aging air traffic control facilities, argued Patrick Forrey, president of the controllers' union.
"The resulting environmental conditions have jeopardized the safety of workers as well as the effectiveness of the equipment they use — both of which can negatively impact the safety of the air traffic system," Forrey said in testimony prepared for a hearing Tuesday by the House aviation subcommittee .
"We recognize that we have a backlog of maintenance and repair," said Bruce Johnson, FAA's vice president of terminal services. "And we are taking steps to reduce that backlog ... We are making headway."
In prepared testimony, Johnson said that repairs and maintenance affecting safety "as always are our first priority." He added that high priority needs like a leaking roof or an air conditioner outage during summer are addressed immediately, while lower priority needs like new paint and carpet are planned through the agency's annual budget process.
Water leaks, obscured sight lines, toxic fumes, mold, asbestos, pest infestations and poor heating and cooling were reported in a survey by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association of its field representatives at the nation's 314 airport towers and traffic and radar control centers. Responses were obtained from 220 sites.
— Seventy-five reported water leaks including six with frequent leaks directly over controllers or equipment. At the Atlanta Center "controllers have had to hold an umbrella over the radar scope in order to see the planes and hope they do not get electrocuted while working."
— More than 100 facilities reported extreme temperature variations because of poor heating or cooling. Because of recurrent condensation on the San Juan tower windows "controllers are sometimes 'blind,' without the ability to scan the runways or taxiways."
— Operations have been interrupted and some controllers taken ill because noxious fumes entered their work place, including poisonous carbon monoxide at the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control in April and welding fumes at the Dulles airport tower outside Washington, D.C., in May.
Of the 220 facilities reporting, 62 rated their conditions poor. Another 18 called theirs "outright dangerous" and said they "were concerned with their personal well being as well as the facility's ability to handle the daily aircraft operations."