A Congressional committee that oversees the Department of Transportation says billions of dollars of taxpayer money can be saved by making a few changes. In a report titled “Sitting on our Assets,” Republican members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee cite areas where there is the potential for savings of a quarter of a trillion dollars. Several of the examples point to the FAA.
The report cites such things as more precise staffing of air traffic control facilities, consolidation of some offices, and studying to determine if some facilities are needed in NextGen operations before making any changes or improvements.
Since 2000, air traffic has declined system-wide by 21%, however, staffing of controllers has increased at many facilities. At Chicago O’Hare, the number of operations dropped from 992,471 in 2004 to 827,899 in 2009. In that same period the number of controllers has increased from 64 to 78. At Minneapolis-St. Paul operations in the same period dropped from 540,727 to 432,604 but three additional controllers were added to the payroll. The report cites similar figures for 25 of the busiest facilities. FAA counters by saying additional controllers are needed because of controller attrition.
In the air traffic area where money can be saved, report recommends putting more control towers in the Contract Tower program. Currently, 246 airports in 46 states participate in the program. They handle about 25% of the operations at control tower airports. No analysis on savings has been conducted since 2003, however at that time the cost to operate a contract tower was roughly 50% of the cost to operate a similar size FAA-staffed VFR tower. Controllers working at contract towers meet the same requirements as those on the FAA payroll and many are former military controllers.
The report says the U.S. government is the nation’s largest asset holder, managing some 896,000 buildings and structures where money can be saved by better management and consolidation of underutilized facilities.
To make some of the savings revealed in the study, the group admits the Congress must give statutory authority to the Department of Transportation to make certain changes.
John Mica (R-Fla.) is the ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Thomas Petri (R-Wis.) is ranking of the Aviation Subcommittee.