A key U.S. government watchdog gave a strong endorsement to the FAA’s Contract Tower Program, finding that those facilities are more cost-effective and have similar safety records as similar federal towers. The Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General (OIG) reviewed the program at the behest of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and its aviation subcommittee, which have kept a careful watch over the facilities after the FAA attempted to shutter 149 of them earlier this decade when the agency was facing sequestration budget cuts.
Since that time, though, Congress has ensured funding for the program and it has flourished with about 250 towers now managing about 28 percent of the nation’s ATC operations. The program received a boost in 2017 when the FAA began permitting new and replacement towers built by airport sponsors to join the program. Participating towers typically are at airports with lower-level activity.
The OIG compared these towers with similar federal facilities and found between 2015 and 2018, on average, contract towers used at least 47.6 percent fewer resources. These towers also had fewer safety events per aircraft, but the OIG cautioned, “We do not believe the difference between these numbers and those of FAA’s towers is meaningful because, among other reasons, the numbers of safety-related events across the NAS were very low relative to the total number of flights.”