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Update on the Safety and Cost Aspects of the Federal Aviation Administration's Contract Tower Program

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On July 18, 2012, the Inspector General testified before the House Subcommittee on Aviation regarding the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Contract Tower Program. Established in 1982, the program currently oversees 250 contract towers providing air traffic control services to airports nationwide. The Inspector General testified that, based on our ongoing work, contract towers continue to provide safe air traffic services, as contract towers have a lower number and rate of reported safety incidents and Agency-identified deficiencies when compared with similar FAA towers. In addition, contract towers remain strongly supported by users and continue to provide cost-efficient air traffic control services. Our work found that the average contract tower costs roughly $1.5 million less to operate annually than a comparable FAA tower, largely due to lower staffing and salary levels. However, the Inspector General noted that FAA can improve its oversight of the program by implementing a voluntary safety incident reporting program at contract towers, reviewing labor hours worked to ensure contract compliance, and implementing processes to regularly evaluate contract towers as required by Congress.