Aug 15, 2014

As Congress moves toward determining federal funding levels for fiscal year 2015, and begins work on FAA reauthorization legislation, aviation stakeholders are expressing renewed concerns about the preservation of 252 federal contract towers (FCTs). Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate recently sent letters to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta reiterating congressional support for the program.

Fifty-five senators signed a July 31 letter imploring Huerta to consider “all perspectives” in what appears to be an effort to streamline tower operations as the agency continues to deal with budget pressures.

“Recently, FAA has initiated a planning effort aimed at right-sizing the national airspace system under the direction of Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker, as well as the formation of a low-activity tower working group,” the letter reads. “It is not clear if, or how, these two efforts are related… We believe it is critically important that FAA work collaboratively and in partnership with the key aviation stakeholders before making important policy decisions that impact the long-term sustainability of contract towers nationwide.”

A similar letter, signed by 114 House lawmakers, reiterated the Senate’s call for greater transparency from the FAA regarding its intentions for the contract tower program.

“Federal contract towers supplement FAA staffed facilities around the country, buttressing a unified national air traffic control system,” said the House letter. “In addition, contract towers play a vital role in connecting smaller airports and rural communities with the national air transportation system.”

In existence for more than 30 years, the federal contract tower program enables private entities to operate FAA control towers at GA airports across the country. Last year, the FAA threatened to close 149 FCTs in order to meet mandated budget-curtailment requirements under federal budget sequestration. NBAA was active in efforts to preserve funding for the contract facilities and in mitigating the potential impact of tower closures on regular business aviation operations.

Congressional action, prompted by significant outcry from industry stakeholders and advocacy groups, ultimately compelled the Department of Transportation and FAA to spare the facilities. Funding for the contract towers has since been maintained through the current fiscal year by a federal omnibus appropriations bill.

Dick Doubrava, NBAA’s vice president, government affairs, welcomed the latest display of congressional support for FCTs.

“As longtime supporters of the contract tower program, we are pleased to see these bipartisan, bicameral letters,” he said. “They demonstrate strong congressional support for the contract tower program. Air traffic control towers are important in ensuring our aviation system remains the safest and most efficient in the world, and we will continue to advocate for this program.”

The current FAA operating budget expires next month.

Read the Senate letter. (PDF)

Read the House letter. (PDF)