Sweden’s ATC innovation may result in important solution to FAA’s contract tower dilemma

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A Remote Tower Services (RTS) system was installed by Swedish Civil Aviation Administration (LFV) and Saab at Örnsköldsvik Airport, and a Remote Tower Center (RTC) was located about 75 miles away in Sundsvall. The first flight landed recently. The RTC concept would increase the economy of scale of ATC and reduce the operating costs.

The closure of federal contract towers has become an annual Congressional debate over the Administration’s proposal. There is a long list of Members of Congress who make it clear that these facilities are vital to safety and the local economy. Perhaps the policy focus should be directed to defining/redefining the appropriate analytical tools used to determine whether a facility meets the cost/benefit test.

The US should carefully follow the functioning of the remote tower at Örnsköldsvik Airport as well as the Leesburg RTS. If they work, there may be a technical solution to a very difficult policy issue. The opponents of closure base their case on safety and the ATC jobs, though the later argument is not as explicitly stated. The Swedish RTS should provide a safe alternative.

The reason why the Administration wants to close contract towers are the staffing of these facilities is expensive. The reason why some of the Senators and Representatives urge that they remain open is to retain the well-paying jobs in their districts. The clash between politics and economics has a history on Capitol Hill; eventually the inevitable pressure of dollars will win. The Swedish RTS option may avoid a zero sum battle. As presently framed, all contract towers may close. If the safety capability is proved in Örnsköldsvik, then a win/win compromise may be to maintain the level of safety AND retain some of those big salary positions at the Remote Tower Center in a Member’s district and in the region of many Members.

The technology deserves thoughtful consideration by Congress!

ARTICLE: World-first remote air traffic control system lands in Sweden

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