Special Reports

Working to keep air traffic control jobs on Long Island

A Q&A with Rep. Anthony D’Esposito on how his subcommittee post has positioned him to help FAA workers.

Rep. Anthony D’Esposito

Rep. Anthony D’Esposito Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images

Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, a retired New York City Police Department detective who served on the Hempstead Town Council from 2016 to 2023, was elected to Congress two years ago to represent the 4th Congressional District in central and southern Nassau County. D’Esposito currently is a member of the House Aviation Subcommittee. City & State caught up with D’Esposito to discuss his work with the subcommittee, how the post has better positioned him to work with unionized local FAA workers on Long Island, advocate for more air traffic control staffing and talk about NextGen technology in air transportation. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

What are you focusing on as a member of the House Aviation Subcommittee and why did you want to be on this subcommittee?

Being on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for me was important because Long Islander are a constituency that likes to see things happen. If you’re looking to deliver projects for your district, transportation and infrastructure is one of the best places to be.

And prior to getting into office, I did meet with union members of the TRACON N90 (FAA approach control) facility and understood how important it was to this region and to the airline industry and how I could have an opportunity to work well with that labor union. Serving on that subcommittee, with the vicinity of transportation hubs next to my district, was a good fit.

The most important thing was getting the FAA reauthorization bill through the committee and the floor. There was a lot of good in that bill for the region. We worked very hard to make sure we secured Long Island jobs at TRACON N90 in Garden City, right in the middle of my district. They handle most of the air traffic for the Northeast out of that facility. We worked with labor unions for air traffic controllers to deliver that into the bill as well as further threats to have more air traffic controllers moved out to Philadelphia.

And with the migrant issue being so prevalent in New York, we tackled the issue that JFK was facing with regard to a migrant shelter at the airport. It was a building directly across from the postal facility, a vacant hangar given authorization by the city to house migrants. It wasn’t designed to be a migrant shelter. It doesn’t have access to main streets. If you want to find a job or get food, it’s not near anything.

The idea behind it was completely disastrous, and the fact that there was zero communication with law enforcement agencies that had jurisdiction of that area put surrounding communities in jeopardy. We saw that villages of Nassau County had to change the way that their downtowns looked by removing benches because people coming from JFK came and slept on them. We did a site visit days after it opened, met with the Port Authority, TSA and we sent some letters with regard to the fact that we don’t believe that any transportation hubs like those at JFK should be used as migrant shelters.

You’ve paid attention to air traffic control staffing issues. Is there a need for more air traffic controllers overall in the country right now, given concerns about near collisions on runways?

We can always use more air traffic controllers, the fact that we were able to keep those jobs here on Long Island in Nassau County in my district was super important to me. They handled the approach service for JFK, Newark, LaGuardia, MacArthur, Teterboro and Westchester, and the majority of the air traffic that comes into this region comes into that facility. I’m thankful we were able to keep those jobs in TRACON 90. It’s important that Long Island families didn’t have to move elsewhere in order to chase their job.

Is there any discussion or appetite to revisit expanding runway capacity at smaller regional airports to reduce delays, such as MacArthur in Suffolk County? 

Not currently. I know it was something that was discussed by the town of Islip a few years back, but I don’t think anything progressed any further. I work well with both members of (Congress from) Suffolk County and made it very clear to all my colleagues in Long Island that if there’s anything transportation or infrastructure-related I’d be happy to make the committee aware of it. But there are no recent conversations about expanding runway capacity – but if that’s something the town of Islip people are interested in, I’d be happy to explore it.

What impact are the upgrades at LaGuardia, JFK and Newark having on the broader New York City region?

The major impacts we’ve seen from the advancements at the airport have been the creation of jobs. The trades that have gone to work at the airports, when they’re working and create a good wage, they’re able to spark our local economies.

Speaking with people at the TSA, Port Authority police officers as well as the airlines, and airline pilots association, the ridership of the planes has increased to pre-COVID levels. The expansion of airports at these facilities have brought people back to airports and encouraged them to travel

It’s not only bringing people into New York. We also have New Yorkers flying elsewhere to spark other economies. We’ll continue to monitor as further advancements are made at JFK and LaGuardia.

Why has it taken so long for the federal government to adopt NextGen technology? Would it improve air traffic control safety? 

It was part of the FAA reauthorization bill that passed the House. It’s something that the Port Authority supports. It’s having some hiccups on the other side of Congress. With all the appropriations lately, things are running slow because of a divided government. But indications over the last two weeks are that we’ll get some spending bills across. Hopefully this is an indication things will move forward in the future and I hope this is one of them.