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DOT’s OIG issues report on FAA Contract Towers, Improved Oversight Needed
By Steve Hall

November 20, 2012 - The Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) oversight of the Federal Contract Tower Program (FCT) which was established in 1982, the Program currently oversees 250 contract towers providing low-cost air traffic control services to airports nationwide. 

OIG found that contract towers continue to provide air traffic control services at a lower cost than similar FAA towers. On average, a contract tower cost about $1.5 million less to operate than a comparable FAA tower, mainly due to lower staffing and salary levels.  


Contract tower controllers’ salaries are based on Department of Labor (DOL) wage rates, which are lower than the salaries paid to FAA controllers. For example, based on current DOL rates, an air traffic controller at a contract tower near Tampa, FL, would receive base pay of about $56,000 per year, whereas an FAA-employed air traffic controller in Sarasota, FL, an area with similar costs of living, would receive base pay ranging from about $63,000 to $85,000 per year, depending on the controller’s experience. 

While contract towers continue to operate at a lower cost than comparable FAA towers, the FAA has opportunities to improve its oversight of the contractual and operational aspects of the FCT Program. OIG’s 1998 review of the FCT Program found that contract towers were not staffed in accordance with contractor staffing plans, raising concerns that the Government was being billed for services that were not actually provided.  

In response to OIG’s report, the FAA included a provision in subsequent contracts to enhance oversight of contractor performance. This provision requires contractors to submit a staffing plan that includes the number of controllers that will work at the tower and the total annual number of hours those controllers will work, exclusive of vacation, holiday, and sick leave.  

Once the FAA approves the staffing plan, the contractors must comply with the staffing levels and hours of service called for in the plan, and actual hours worked must be within plus or minus 3 percent of the approved plan. If the contractor works less than 97 percent of the hours specified in the contract, the amount paid to the contractor could be reduced for each hour not worked.



In addition, contract towers had a lower number and rate of safety incidents compared to similar the FAA towers, and users remain strongly supportive of the Program. However, OIG identified opportunities for the FAA to enhance its oversight of the Program, including strengthening its financial controls and implementing voluntary safety reporting systems at contract towers. The FAA concurred with all three of OIG’s recommendations to improve the Agency’s oversight of the contractual and safety aspects of the Program.

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