No FAA decision yet on Northeast air center locale

A report from the U.S. Department of Transportation says no decision has yet been made on where to build a new air traffic control center that will serve the busy New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia metro areas.

DOT's Inspector General said this week that the Federal Aviation Administration still has to make several key decisions about the new facility and about how to move forward with a broader modernization plan. The FAA plans to consolidate 49 aging air traffic facilities in the Northeast down to four at a cost of about $2.3 billion. The goal is to finish the four new facilities by 2023

A final decision on where to build the main facility, which is expected to employ more than 1,000 people, has been pushed back from November 2012 to May 2013, according to the report.

"This is primarily due to delays in selecting a site for the facility and tight funding limits," the report noted.

Long Island business groups, unions and elected officials, including its congressional delegation — three Democrats and one Republican — have lobbied loudly in recent weeks to keep the FAA facility on Long Island, where about 900 employees work at two facilities, in Westbury and Ronkonkoma.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer last week said he received a commitment from acting FAA administrator Michael Huerta that a new $95 million facility would be built in New York, though an exact location wasn't announced. Schumer wants Huerta to visit Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma and consider placing the facility there.

The FAA hasn't publically confirmed the New York commitment.

The Inspector General also said that the FAA's plans for future projects could change based on experiences with the initial locations, including "changing the number and size of integrated facilities built, or constructing two buildings on one site."

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association also issued a statement this month urging that the facility remains on Long Island. "NATCA supports facility consolidations and realignments where they enhance the safety and efficiency," union President Paul Rinaldi said. "We believe the New York Integrated Control Facility can do both and also save taxpayers' money."

The FAA said in a statement that the agency agrees with recommendations the Inspector General made on how to improve the consolidation process.

The report said the FAA has made "considerable progress" since the last review in 2008.

In February, President Barack Obama signed legislation to modernize the nation's aviation system, speeding up the switch from radar to an air traffic control system based on GPS technology.