Contract Towers: Saving Money and Providing Essential Service

With as much as I write about air traffic control you would think I was a controller or something.  The reality is that atc is just the hot topic in aviation these days.  After relatively little change in half a century, we are at a point where drastic changes are happening that will make the whole system for effective and more efficient.

One of the important sectors of the atc world is the contract tower program.  Through this program, smaller airports are able to hire contract air traffic controllers as opposed to those employed by the FAA.  This allows the tower to function at a lower cost, while still providing the essential service of air traffic control.

This is by no means a new service as it has been functioning for 30 years.  Over the last year, the 246 towers that are part of the contract tower program handled 14.8 million operations at a cost of $133 million.  That equates to handling 28% of all tower operations, while only using 14% of the FAA’s budget for tower operations.

In a time when the vast majority of government programs provide less with more, the contract towers are doing the exact opposite.  Despite their efficiency and effectiveness, the program is looking at changes coming from Congress as they look for places to cut costs everywhere.  Hopefully, Congress will see that this is one area that is already operating at a relatively low-cost for the services they provide.

Most people will never know if the controller handling their aircraft is part of the contract tower program, and that is the beauty of it.  These are FAA certified controllers that are getting the job done just as effectively, but at a lower cost.  It is absolutely essential that they be able to continue to provide these services at smaller airports so that safety can be maintained.