Contract v. FAA towers a 277% difference

The average annual cost difference between a contract ($537,000) and FAA ($2.025 million) tower is $1.488 million according to testimony from Calvin Scovel, DOT Inspector General at a House Transportation and Infrastructure hearing on July 18.

Scovel’s numbers came from a DOT audit of the contract tower program. The audit compared “30 contract towers and 30 FAA towers with similar air traffic densities”. There are “250 contract towers in over 45 states,” in the 30 year old contract tower program.

“The difference in cost is primarily due to two factors,” said Scovel. “First, contract towers are staffed at lower levels than the comparable FAA towers.” Six, on average at contract towers and 16 at FAA towers. “Second, contract tower controllers’ salaries, which are based on Department of Labor wage rates, are lower than the salaries paid to FAA controllers. For example, based on current Department of Labor rates, an air traffic controller at the Albert Whitted Tower near Tampa, FL, would receive base pay of about $56,000 per year, whereas an FAA-employed air traffic controller in Sarasota, FL, an area with a similar cost of living, would receive base pay ranging from about $63,000 to $85,000 per year, depending on experience.”

From Rep. John Mica’s press release, “Of the 250 current contract towers, 136 were previously staffed by the FAA, according to the testimony of Walter Strong, Administrator of Max Westheimer Airport in Norman, OK.  “Based on anticipated cost information from the DOT IG, if FAA were still staffing those 136 towers, the additional annual costs to taxpayers, based on fiscal year 2010 figures, would be approximately $200 million, which is $50 million more than the current budget to operate all 250 current contract towers across the entire country,” Strong said.”

Scovel does call on the FAA to enhance contract tower oversight to ensure continued safety.

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