FAA Urged To Reconsider Closing Leesburg Remote Tower


The FAA is being asked to reconsider its decision to close the remote air traffic control tower at Virginia’s Leesburg Executive Airport (JYO) on June 14, 2023. Parties expressing concerns over the upcoming closure include the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., Senators Mark Warner, D-Va., and Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Leesburg Mayor Kelly Burk. JYO was the first remote air traffic control system test site in the U.S. with testing beginning in 2015.

Developed by Saab Sensis, JYO’s remote tower system provides ATC services via off-site controllers using on-airport cameras and microphones. It was deemed operationally viable by the FAA in September 2021, though limited to airports like JYO, which has a single 5,500-foot runway. According to the FAA, the decision to close the Leesburg remote tower came after Saab informed the agency last February that it would no longer be pursuing FAA System Design Approval for the prototype tower at JYO.

It has been reported that JYO’s tower has provided services for more than 174,000 operations to date with annual airport operations increasing 47 percent since continuous ATC services began in 2018. The airport, which does not have an on-site tower, was also accepted into the FAA’s Federal Contract Tower program in October 2020.

“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,” NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen wrote in a recent letter (PDF) to acting FAA administrator Billy Nolen. “The complexities of the Washington, DC airspace and the mix of operations at JYO are not trivial and must be considered before the remote tower services end.”

Kate O'Connor
Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Other AVwebflash Articles


  1. What I would like to know is ‘why’. Why would “Saab .. would no longer be pursuing FAA System Design Approval for the prototype tower at JYO.”? Is it for JYO only, is Saab exiting that business, does the FAA have new requirements for SDA, etc.?

    • Good questions.

      I have flown to JYO both before the remote tower was there, and as recently as this past fall. There seemed to be more activity at the airport during my most recent visit, than when I recall last being there sometime around 2008. It was definitely an easier process to get in and out of the airspace this time with the remote tower in operation.

  2. And what of the virtual tower installed at FNL? It has yet to be declared “operationally viable” by the FAA although the installation was finished 2 years ago.

    It seems to me that this virtual/remote tower experiment by the FAA is over, and the FAA is no longer interested.

  3. First, they push GA out of the metro airports. Then they starve the GA airports. Then, they put their success on their résumé and send it to Boeing and the airlines.

  4. Cui bono, or “Follow the money” as DT (not DJT) supposedly said.

    Before long, as soon as you enter controlled airspace your MFD will be taken over by an AI in the tower. Human controllers will be reduced to dealing with non-autopilot-equipped A/C. Which themselves will eventually be ADAPTed the same way that non-ADSB/out aircraft are now, allowing for single-controller tower ops. And one dog.

    I used to be comforted by the assumption that I wouldn’t live long enough to see it, but I’m becoming less sanguine …

  5. Perhaps SAAB got tired of funding demo and there is no one else is ready to pickup the $1m per year cost to continue?

  6. Three guys are in a bar, the FAA, the Town of Leesburg, and SAAB.

    SAAB invited the Town and the FAA to the bar.

    SAAB says to the bartender, “Run a tab for me.”

    The bartender says to SAAB, “Sure.”

    The tab is around $1m per year.

    From a drunken haze, SAAB says to the bartender, “Whoa nelly, close me out now!”

    The FAA and the town look at each other through glazed eyes, each hoping the other will pick up the tab.

    The FAA says, “I’m not covering the tab, that’s a million a year!”

    The Town says, “Me neither.”

    All three stumble out of the bar, sobered by the experience