April 5, 2023
The association is raising concerns about the FAA’s decision to cease remote tower operations at Leesburg Executive Airport (JYO) in Leesburg, VA.
“We believe it is in the interest of safety to continue this innovative and cost-effective capability,” NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen wrote in a letter to Capt. Billy Nolen, the FAA’s acting administrator. Bolen encouraged the FAA to work with the city of Leesburg “to explore alternatives that will allow for the same level of enhanced safety the remote tower has offered and believe that any change should be based on a full safety risk management assessment.”
Since 2015, the Leesburg airport has used a system developed by Saab Inc. that relays data to air traffic controllers based at a remote tower center located outside the airport. Bolen noted that over the past eight years, the industry has seen safety and cost benefits of the prototyped remote tower program at the Leesburg airport.
“NBAA has been an active participant in the multiple safety risk assessments that have been completed during the phased remote tower deployment and no safety issues have been identified,” Bolen said. “Our members have benefited from the safety enhancements for both local and itinerant operators.”
Bolen urged the agency “not to allow a quest for perfection” to stand in the way of important enhancements in innovation and safety that the remote tower has delivered. He pointed out that the FAA’s own September 2021, operational viability decision was to move forward with the remote tower system – and that the FAA even discontinued using a temporary tower backup as a result of that review.
“It is concerning that over a dozen safety assessments, an operational viability decision and years of operational experience, as well as robust investments by the FAA and industry are being discarded and services will come to an end on the cusp of a busy summer travel season,” Bolen wrote.
He urged the FAA to convene a safety risk management panel that includes both industry and local operators and allow the remote tower services to continue until there is a viable replacement or plan to take its place.