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Published: Saturday, 8/23/2014 - Updated: 1 month ago

Concern raised over relocating Toledo Express radar room

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The radar room at Toledo Express Airport could be moving to Detroit or Cleveland. The radar room at Toledo Express Airport could be moving to Detroit or Cleveland.
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A Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority official has asked the Federal Aviation Administration to tread carefully in its study of relocating the radar room at Toledo Express Airport and consolidating it with similar facilities in Detroit or Cleveland.

A memorandum Airport Manager Steve Arnold sent Wednesday to Kristianne Lore, manager of the Toledo control tower, cited concern about how the loss of a local terminal radar approach control facility might compromise rapid-response capability at the Ohio Air National Guard’s 180th Fighter Wing, based at Express.

“We respectfully request that the FAA strongly consider keeping the current TRACON operations at Toledo Express Airport,” Mr. Arnold wrote in part. “Please understand how important the ACA [Aerospace Control Alert] mission is to the security of our country, and how important preserving that mission and the entire operation of the 180th Fighter Wing is to the Northwest Ohio community.”

Discussing the matter Friday with the port authority board of directors’ airport committee, port authority President Paul Toth said the local air-traffic controllers’ familiarity with the air guard base’s national-security role helps ensure its F-16 pilots’ ability to take off within three minutes of receiving orders, its mission standard.

“We don’t want to jeopardize that in any way,” Mr. Toth said.

Elizabeth Isham Cory, an FAA regional spokesman in Chicago, said the FAA “is in receipt of the letter and is in the process of developing a response.”

Ryan Moore, a Toledo pilot and underwriter with U.S. Aircraft Insurance Group, as well as a member of the Northwest Ohio Aviation Council, a coalition of airport users, said a number of airport users had sent letters to the FAA about the issue, but “we’re waiting on the guard.”

Moving approach control, whose air-traffic controllers direct traffic in airspace near but not at the airport, to another facility could create “more chance for errors” for flights at Toledo Express, Mr. Moore said, but overall the risk would be “very small.”

“Theoretically, nothing else changes over the next couple of years except who we call,” he said.

The matter arises now, Mr. Moore said, because the Toledo Express TRACON is due for a $2 million system upgrade, and federal law passed in 2012 ordered the FAA to consider options for transferring radar rooms to neighboring facilities that already have been upgraded to save money, if it can be done without compromising safety.

“If we didn’t have the Guard, we would expect it to move to Detroit,” he said.

“We’re still researching the implications of any relocation. We don’t have enough information for a position at this time,” Staff Sgt. Amber Williams, a spokesman at the 180th, said Friday afternoon.

In its own letter, the aviation council said moving approach control away from Toledo could degrade the promptness of air-traffic control near the airport, and controllers working somewhere else might also have less time to oversee “practice approaches” that pilots make at Toledo Express for training.

But if approach control must be moved, Mr. Moore wrote in that letter, Detroit would be preferable to Cleveland or Kalamazoo, Mich., because “we share more airspace and commonality in traffic patterns” with Detroit.

Mr. Moore said he has been told to expect a plan from the FAA by late this year, after which it must be approved by Congress. Any actual transfers would not occur before 2016, he said.

Relocating approach control would not affect tower controllers who direct take-offs, landings, and other on-airport flight activity.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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