DOT’s OIG To Audit The FAA’s Contract Tower Program


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DOT’s OIG To Audit The FAA’s Contract Tower Program

By Shane Nolan

April 11, 2011 - The Office of Inspector General plans to review the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Contract Tower Program. Beginning with a pilot program in 1982 that has since expanded, the FAA has been engaged in converting FAA-operated low-activity air traffic control towers to contract operations and instituting a cost-sharing program with local communities.  

In 1982, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began a pilot program to contract for air traffic control services at five low-activity, level 1 control towers. From 1998 to 2003, OIG conducted audits evaluating the Contract Tower Program.  

OIG’s previous audits of the program have found that the program has successfully provided safe, low-cost air traffic services to users and that the quality of those services was comparable to the FAA operated towers.

Congress recognized this in its report accompanying its Fiscal Year 2011 Department of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies bill but noted that continued funding for the program warrants another more recent review.

In fiscal year 1993, the FAA estimated that converting former level 1 towers to contract towers would result in annual savings of about $200,000 per tower, or about $20 million annually. Prior to 1998, the FAA categorized all towers as levels 1 through 5, with level 1 towers having the lowest number of operations. 

Over the years Congress has provided funding for a multi-year program to convert additional the FAA-operated low-activity towers to contract operations and institute a cost-sharing program with local communities. Currently, there are 247 contract towers in 46 states operated by 3 contractors. 

OIG’s audit objective will be to review the Contract Tower Program to evaluate whether the program continues to have cost effectiveness, safety benefits, and overall value to users. OIG will begin the audit this month at the FAA Headquarters and will include site visits to Air Traffic Organization regional service centers and low-activity.

The world's highest control tower is Vancouver Harbour Control Tower, situated on top of the 142 meter skyscraper 200 Granville Square, in downtown Vancouver, Canada. The world's tallest free standing control tower is the 132.2 m (434 feet) Suvarnabhumi Airport control tower, 25 km east of Bangkok, Thailand. The very first control tower for an airport was built in 1925 in Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. (The Beginning Of Air Traffic Control)
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