UES officials: FAA should expand contract tower program to save money

Officials at the Waukesha County Airport (UES) think the FAA has it backwards: Instead of closing towers at 173 airports to save money as part of sequestration, it should expand the contract tower program, which would save money.

Officials at UES — which is on the potential closure list — note that the Office of the Inspector General’s 2012 Audit Report revealed that contract towers have a significantly lower number and rate of safety incidents than similar FAA-staffed towers, and they cost an average of $1.5 million less per year.

“This raises the question of why the FAA would choose to eliminate the safer and more cost-effective option, and likely put the Contract Tower companies out of business,” said Kurt Stanich, manager of the airport, which is also known as Crites Field. “We suggest that a more thoughtful look at expanding the Contract Tower program to many other airports across the country may be a better solution than eliminating 40% of the nation’s air traffic control towers.”

“By expanding the more cost-effective Contract Tower operating model, the FAA may very well be able to achieve the cost reductions needed without decreasing aviation safety, without forcing the closure of the three Contract Tower companies, without putting hundreds of air traffic controllers and related workers in the unemployment lines, and without shifting costs to local property taxpayers,” officials continued in a prepared statement.

According to the FAA letter received by Waukesha County Airport, the rationale for choosing which airport towers to close is based on the degree to which the air traffic control tower affects the “national interest.” The Wisconsin airports that the FAA will continue to fund are those that have commercial airline traffic, even though several of them have less overall air traffic throughout the year than Waukesha County Airport.

Stanich continued, “As the fourth busiest airport in Wisconsin and the busiest general aviation airport, we question the definition of ‘national interest.’ Although Waukesha County Airport does not have airline service, it does serve hundreds of corporate, charter and cargo aircraft which are of similar size to the regional airlines’ aircraft, and the corporate and charter aircraft do carry passengers throughout the country and internationally, just like the airlines.”

Waukesha County Airport is the only general aviation airport in Wisconsin that has been designated by the FAA as a “national airport.” According to the FAA’s definition, “National airports support the national and state system by providing communities with access to national and international markets.” In 2012, there were only 84 such airports across the country. This definition would seem to meet the FAA rationale of airports that affect the national interest.

There are 238 aircraft based at Waukesha County Airport, including two flight schools, Flight for Life and numerous corporate aircraft.

“Although we are certainly not O’Hare, with 57,000 takeoffs and landings last year – an average of 150 every day of the year – we doubt that any of our pilots would consider this to be a low usage airport that does not need an air traffic control tower,” said Stanich. “We urge our federal elected officials to intervene in this issue and ensure that a more thoughtful approach is taken to balancing the public interests of responsible federal use of taxpayer funds, aviation safety and jobs.”

For more information: WaukeshaCounty.gov




  1. Dennis Reiley says

    The proposed closures may or may not result in real savings, its hard to determine with all the slanted information out there.

    But whether to close or not to close anything is not the real issue, just a possible result. The real issue is sequestration which will seriously harm this country. No one likes higher taxes but without needed taxes this country will be seriously harmed. You can’t expect to have your pet ideas supported at the expense of someone else’s pet ideas. We need excessive costs cut and needed infrastructure supported even at the cost of increased taxes. This country has lost its way and is on a path that could well lead to its destruction. There are too many small-minded people in Congress and they need your voice to institute real change instead of this “my way or the highway” attitude.

  2. Greg W says

    The closures seem to be purely political, regardless of tower efficiency how does the reduction of a budget increase greatly effect, much less close an existing facility? The sequester cuts are reported to affect the FAA budget increase for this year so again a tower that has been funded for years should not suffer any real impact. Please follow the standard pattern and lets stay safe.

  3. David says

    Most private companies are non-union, whereas most federal employees are members of the federal emplyees union. Whose jobs are federal employees going to maintain first.

  4. Bryan says

    Privatization of air traffic control, (of which towers are a part), and “public-private partnerships” have led to user fees in Europe, Canada, and the rest of the world. This is true in every case. The only way for a private company to optimize its profits is to raise some sort of fee, or provide the absolute minimum services. “More cost effective” ? Doubtful. Lets consider all costs, hard and soft. Lets not focus on telling half truths to a congressional committee in order to promote a pro business agenda at the expense of the flying public.

    ATC is a safety system. It is not a “profit center”. The mission of a government safety center is to promote the well being of the citizens. The agenda of any private company that wishes to remain in business is to make more and higher profits. The two are ultimately not compatible.

    The only real way to get more bang for our buck as tax payers is to revamp the Office of Personnel Management and make it possible to hold government employees accountable. This is not easy, and there will be many employees that enjoy some sort of protected status under the current government policies and practices. In the case of air traffic controllers; the case should be made that it is absolutely necessary for public safety. Inability to hold government employees accountable is the root cause, and only by addressing that will we actually get any real savings and better performance.

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