Contract Tower Program’s 30-year record of safety, efficiency underscores program’s value, Airport Executive tells Congress

Posted: 18 July 2012 | AAAE | No comments yet

Safe, cost-effective and efficient…

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FAA’s Contract Tower Program provides safe, cost-effective and efficient air traffic control tower services to 250 communities nationwide, underscoring the 30-year-old public-industry partnership’s value to the aviation industry and the nation’s economy, American Association of Airport Executives Board Member and U.S. Contract Tower Association Policy Board Chair Walt Strong, A.A.E., told lawmakers at a hearing Wednesday.

Testifying before the House aviation subcommittee, Strong-administrator of the University of Oklahoma’s Max Westheimer Airport in Norman, Oklahoma, which benefits from a contract tower-emphasized the value that the program delivers both system-wide and at the community level.

Last year, the 246 contract towers in the program handled 14.8 million of the 53.7 million total tower operations, and accounted for $133 million of FAA’s $984 million budget allocated to tower operations, Strong pointed out.

“The towers in the FAA Contract Tower Program in Fiscal Year 2011 handled approximately 28 percent of all tower operations, but accounted for just 14 percent of FAA’s overall budget allotted to tower operations,” Strong underscored. “Now that’s a good deal for the taxpayers.”

Strong noted that his airfield, which joined the Contract Tower Program in 1991, helps ensure the safety and efficiency of about 54,000 operations per year, supporting many jobs in the process. The airport, a reliever to Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers Airport, is home to a generous mix of corporate and general aviation aircraft, the University of Oklahoma’s flight training program, state and local law enforcement, and The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.

“As do most airports in the program, our airport supports the tower operations with local funds for monthly utility costs, repairs and ongoing maintenance for the tower,” Strong told lawmakers. “So even though FAA pays for controllers’ costs, we provide significant local funding in partnership with FAA to provide first class air traffic control services to our aviation community.”

Strong urged FAA to consider the investments that communities make in the Contract Tower Program-from covering ongoing costs to funding the construction of towers-as the agency reviews the benefit/cost analysis that determines program participation.

Strong explained that FAA’s changes to the benefit/cost analysis could shift additional costs to the local communities, which could result in significant negative consequences. “The end result could be the closure of many contract towers nationwide,” Strong warned. “We hope FAA avoids changes to the program that would jeopardize air traffic safety, economic growth and jobs.”

Strong noted that the Contract Tower Program’s safety and efficiency has been validated numerous times by the DOT Inspector General (IG) and FAA safety audits. He also emphasized the program’s contributions to general aviation safety, which the National Transportation Safety Board recently added to its most-wanted improvements list.

Every contract tower controller is an FAA-certified air traffic controller who meets the identical training and operating standards as FAA-employed controllers, Strong noted. Most have FAA or military air traffic control experience. FAA controls and oversees all aspects of the federal Contract Tower Program, including operating procedures, staffing plans, certification and medical tests of contract controllers, security and facility evaluations. Moreover, federal contract towers operate together with FAA-staffed facilities throughout the country as part of a unified national air traffic control system.

The program’s broad industry support was underscored in a letter sent earlier this year by 12 associations asking Congress for $136.1 million for the fully funded contract towers as well as $10.35 million authorized for the continuation of the Contract Tower Cost-sharing Program. The letter was signed by the American Association of Airport Executives, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Regional Airline Association, National Business Aviation Association, National Association of State Aviation Officials, Airports Council International-North America, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Air Traffic Control Association, National Air Transportation Association, Cargo Airline Association, Air Carrier Association of America, and the Regional Air Cargo Carriers Association.

“Airports that participate in FAA’s Contract Tower Program desire and deserve the safety and economic development benefits that FAA contract towers provide,” Strong told the subcommittee. “We are encouraged by the successful and highly effective partnership that airports, contract controllers, the ATC contractors, and FAA have developed over the past three decades, and we urge Congress to continue its critical support of this program.”

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