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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Union representatives of the air traffic controllers have come out in support of proposed changes in Salt Lake City International approach and departure corridors that have been opposed by city officials, environmental groups and affected residents.
Air safety margins around the airport are not yet compromised, but are getting increasingly thin, the union officials said Wednesday.
"We have pushed the system to the limit. It can't be pushed any further," said tower controller George Wetherell, liaison for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association with the Federal Aviation Administration's proposed airspace redesign.
The FAA proposals include an arrival corridor above the Salt Lake Valley's east bench, where many of the state's wealthier residents live.
Wetherell said the additional corridor would enable controllers to better segregate departing and arriving air traffic and widen the margin of safety.
City airport spokeswoman Barbara Gann said, "We agree that safety is the highest priority. But to date, we have not seen credible proof from the FAA that traffic is at a critical juncture. We're totally open to collaboration with all the entities, but we fear that once the EIS (environmental impact statement) process is finished, decisions will be made and it will be too late."
The controllers say the existing system in many cases puts arriving and departing flights on top of one another, and is increasingly "pushing the envelope."
They cite a steep rise in operational errors in the airspace in which aircraft have failed to maintain minimum separation standards.
"It's still 99.9 percent error-free," said Brady Allred, representative for the tower controllers, who monitor all flights within 45 miles of the airport. "But at the same time, I don't want to be that point-one-percent guy."
The controllers disputed a report last week in which airport board member Keith Christensen said controllers were "not having a problem" with the current flight approach system.
Christensen said Wednesday that he regretted speaking on behalf of the controllers, but will continue to oppose the FAA airspace redesign proposal.
"Safety issues are, of course, paramount," Christensen said. "But at what point do we say safety is reasonable and the other issues are given consideration? We're not operating in a vacuum here."
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, whose district includes the east side of the Salt Lake Valley, says the controllers union choosing to go public "raises red flags" for him.
"I have great concerns about the way this decision seems to be developing," said Matheson. "We seem to be in a (situation) where they are following a process to justify a decision that has already been made."
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)