House Aviation Chair Likes Contract Towers

 - July 23, 2012, 4:25 PM

Congressman Tom Petri (R-Wisc.), chairman of the House of Representatives’ subcommittee on aviation (part of its Transportation and Infrastructure Committee), said the FAA’s Contract Tower Program is cost-effective, The Hill reported on July 18. Petri supported his stance with a recent DOT study released by the DOT Inspector General’s office.

“The IG determined contract towers had a lower number and rate of reported safety incidents than similar FAA towers,” Petri said in a statement after conducting a hearing on July 19. The IG also found contract towers provided air traffic services to low-activity airports at lower costs than the FAA could otherwise provide. The average contract tower costs roughly $1.5 million less to operate than a comparable FAA tower, due largely to lower staffing and salary levels, Petri said. 

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) represents controllers at 314 FAA-operated facilities, while the contract towers, staffed with non-union employees, operate 240 facilities, 63 of which have employees represented by NATCA. In the IG’s report, NATCA supports the cost-share aspect of the current program, but raised concerns that staffing at contract towers often means some facilities have only one person on duty for much of the day.

NATCA also said certification training that often takes between one and five years at an FAA tower, could take as little as 30 days at a contract facility.