WATERLOO — City leaders plan to fight a proposal to shift some Waterloo Regional Airport air traffic control duties to Des Moines.
City Council members voted unanimously Monday to pass a resolution opposing a Federal Aviation Administration plan to have Terminal Radar Approach Control, or TRACON, operations handled remotely by staff at the Des Moines International Airport.
TRACON is the part of the air traffic control system that tracks an aircraft shortly after takeoff and just before landing. The plan still would leave some air traffic controllers in the Waterloo tower to handle operations around the airfield itself.
Airport Director Keith Kaspari said the mayor will send letters with Waterloo’s concerns to Iowa’s congressional delegation in hopes of derailing the plan, which some see as the first step to shuttering the local tower.
“This is an issue the community at large should be concerned about,” Kaspari said.
He also took issue with the FAA report indicating the consolidation of the TRACON operations would save $1.6 million over a 17-year period. The 16 staff members at the Waterloo tower would shrink to nine people while the Des Moines staffing would grow from 26 to 30 workers.
“I think it’s short sighted,” Kaspari said. “This report alleges there are going to be cost savings. This report could not be farther from the truth.
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“With federal agencies trying to do more with less … the possible alleged cost savings is nothing more than a falsehood, as the labor and equipment costs have already been installed,” he said. “So, where are the real cost savings?”
Nick Bird, FAA air traffic manager in Waterloo, said the report does not account for nearly $10 million in next generation radar equipment recently installed at the Waterloo airport. He also believed the staffing projections were off base.
Councilman Pat Morrissey wanted “stronger language” in the resolution opposing the changes at the Waterloo airport and questioned whether losing TRACON would hurt safety.
But Bird emphasized the change “is not going to affect safety; it will effect efficiency.”
Meanwhile, Kaspari is also recommending the FAA use the Waterloo air traffic control tower as “an entry-level and real-world classroom for recent graduates from the FAA’s Air Traffic Control Academy in Oklahoma City, Okla.”
“Then once the graduate achieves both levels of training, then they can apply to move to higher activity levels of air traffic facilities,” he said.
The FAA is accepting comments on the proposal through May 3. Following a 60-day comment review period, the final report along with public comments will be submitted to Congress.