Contract Towers Safe, Efficient Says OIG

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Sometimes you need to be careful what you wish for. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), which is in a pitched battle with the FAA over the proposed privatization of VFR control towers, recently asked the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to compare the performance of 71 FAA-staffed towers, 69 of which are potentially on the auction block, with the 189 VFR towers already in private hands. Inspector General Ken Mead produced what amounted to a glowing endorsement of the contract towers as cost-efficient, safe operations that cost taxpayers about $173 million a year less to run than if they were in government hands. Contract towers, according to the OIG, have fewer staff and pay them less but they also manage to make fewer mistakes than FAA-staffed facilities. NATCA hasn't yet issued a press release in response to the report but FAA Administrator Marion Blakey didn't waste any time. "The report's findings make it clear that contract towers have a very strong safety record. At the same time, they also cost significantly less than federally staffed towers," Blakey said in a statement. NATCA has enlisted consumer groups and some prominent politicians in its battle to keep the 69 FAA-staffed towers under government (and union) operation. The ability to contract them out is contained in an FAA Reauthorization Bill that goes before Congress in the fall.