New Technology may provide a solution to the Contentious Federal Contract Tower Debate

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There’s a very thorny issue which pits Congressional budget hawks against Members who want to be sure that the airport in their district remains open for safety and economic development reasons. The test mentioned in the below article may provide a technological solution to this conflict.

Several years ago, in response to Congressional oversight, the FAA developed a Benefit/Cost Analysis which measures the value of a tower over the cost of the controllers. If that fraction is 1 or larger, the tower remains open. Anything less, the FAA metric dictates that the controllers must be withdrawn.

The initial response was for the FAA to fund towers which were staffed by other than federal employees with certificated companies responsible for their operation. These facilities received federal dollars. The FAA and the Administration have targeted these “subsidized” control towers for budget costs based on the B/CA test.

There have been independent studies which find that these facilities are cost effective, and productive as well as provide an equivalent level of safety. The debate continues on the federal contract towers’ benefit.

For the last few budgets, the Administration and the FAA have proposed to close these facilities. In particular, they were targeted in the Sequestration cuts. The FAA was sued over this diminution of safety and in the midst of Congressional reluctance to relieve the Sequestration’s Sword of Damocles, a bill was quickly enacted to protect the federal contract towers.

Saab Sensis has created, and operated in Europe with certification, a remote tower; it allows a controller at some centralized facility to provide the support which a visual tower would have provided. It is less expensive and if its past performance is reliable, it can attain the same level of safety.

Leesburg is a test bed for the Saab Sensis program. There the issue is not the federal contract tower, but if it works, it may provide a win/win solution to this contentious issue.

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