Efficiency of FAA’s Air Traffic Control Towers Ranges Widely
Total air traffic operations handled by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) facilities declined 19 percent between 2004 and 2013, yet FAA’s operations budget increased slightly during that time. Consequently, the Chairmen of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and its Aviation Subcommittee requested that we assess FAA’s plans to enhance controller productivity, the factors that need to be addressed to achieve the expected benefits, and the estimated cost savings that could be achieved with improved controller productivity. Our prior audit of FAA’s controller productivity initiatives found that they did not achieve the expected benefits. We also found that FAA does not regularly analyze the information in its numerous databases to determine if it could reduce costs.
For this audit, we used FAA data to assess the relative efficiency of FAA air traffic control (ATC) towers. We found that FAA towers function at considerably different levels of efficiency relative to each other. The least efficient towers used from 42 to 98 percent more resources than those of comparable relatively efficient towers, depending on the year and airport type. We estimated that the additional costs associated with the relatively inefficient towers averaged $142 million annually over fiscal years 2008 through 2013, for a total of $853 million. The 10 least efficient hub airport ATC towers alone accounted for 57 percent, on average, of this amount.
We are recommending that FAA identify the factors contributing to greater resource use by the least efficient towers as compared with the relatively efficient towers and develop a plan for addressing them. FAA partially concurred with our recommendation.