AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin-Bergstrom International Airport will very soon start an interim ramp control program that is designed to modernize operations and enhance safety following a string of near misses between aircrafts in the past year.
Austin’s U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett has sent letters to the Federal Aviation Administration calling on the agency to take action in increasing safety at the airport. Currently, the country is facing a shortage in air traffic controllers, and it can take anywhere between two and five months to hire a single air traffic controller, according to city documents.
Does the city of Austin have any control?
Since November of 2022 there have been five near misses at Austin’s airport, and last month an airport employee died after being hit by fuel truck.
The FAA is responsible for communicating with and monitoring aircraft that are landing, taking-off, and taxing at the airport. Once an aircraft enters the apron, or ramp, there is no entity that has direct control over the aircraft. The ramp is where planes park for passengers to board, de-board, and refuel.
District 2 council member Vanessa Fuentes, whose district houses the airport, said the recent string of near misses is posing a threat to travelers.
“For months now, when we’ve had conversations around the near collisions that happened at the airport, I kept hearing, ‘This was a FAA issue — we need more air traffic controllers — you know, this is out of our hands.’ Quite frankly, as a policy maker and as a community leader that attitude is not sufficient for the people I represent,” Fuentes said.
That’s why she sponsored an item on last week’s city council meeting advocating for the creation of a ramp control program. According to the city, a ramp control program is designed to to provide an “enhanced view of the airport’s gates and aprons using technology, like cameras, aircraft tracking, and air-to-ground radios, without the use of a physical tower.”
The airport has already been working to start a program. When AUS originally opened there was no need for a ramp control program, but the region has exponentially grown and the amount of air traffic has increased 30% since pre-Covid.
“To me that was priority number one. Let’s get that fast tracked as soon as possible. That’s one immediate thing that we could be doing here at the local level that we do have control over and that we should be acting on,” Fuentes said.
What’s next for the airport?
The airport staff had already been working on creating an interim program at the airport before Fuentes even introduced the item on the agenda.
A spokesperson with the airport said it expects the interim ramp control program to start either in December or January 2024. The interim program will be run and operated by airport staff. However, the official permanent program will be operated by a third-party company.
Other airports, like Houston Intercontinental and Dallas Fort Worth have their programs managed by airline companies, which works well for hub airports. But the city says Austin’s airport is not a hub airport, so it will look to hire an outside company.
It is estimated it will take between one and one-in-a-half years to get the permanent program up and running.
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