AOPA points out FAA’s flawed process in decision to close towers

In a court filing Monday, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) called the FAA’s decision to close 149 contract control towers “arbitrary, capricious, and fundamentally flawed, leaving the safety and efficiency consequences largely unknown.”

In an amicus curiae brief filed as part of a federal lawsuit against the FAA by municipalities where control towers at airports are slated to be closed, AOPA argued that the FAA ignored its own safety guidelines.

The decision to close certain towers, AOPA stated, was, “based solely on the number of operations conducted at the airport and how that number affects the traveling public. The FAA’s application of this singular standard fails to take into account the many considerations given to establishing and maintaining each of these towers.”

AOPA argued that while not every contract tower may be necessary, the FAA failed to consider important safety factors.

Specifically, AOPA said that the FAA overlooked, “the management of (aircraft) approaching, landing, and departing the airport, the access to the airport, any accident and incident avoidance measures on and in the vicinity of the airport, the local and national impact on traffic diverted to other airports, the public’s health and welfare, the public interests, and environmental impact changes.”

The FAA also ignored primary safety concerns in favor of expedient sequestration cuts, AOPA said in its filing with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court.

“The FAA belatedly drafted a document purporting to evaluate the safety implications of its decision to close a significant number of contract towers,” AOPA stated. “The FAA gave little or no consideration to hearing from the users of these airports, most notably the pilots, as to the impacts that may be felt.”

“AOPA’s members are also concerned with the cost of access to the nation’s airspace and FAA’s services, and how such cost may be impacted by the continuation or closing of a contract tower, recognizing that costs to maintain the tower in the absence of government funding will be passed on to the individual pilots and operators.

The AOPA brief also states that the FAA “appears totally unmindful” of the National Transportation Safety Board’s recent decision to make general aviation safety a top priority.

“While the NTSB intends to work toward improving general aviation safety,” AOPA’s brief says, “the FAA has pushed aside any enhancements to safety provided by the contract towers at these general aviation airports.”

Craig Fuller, AOPA’s president and CEO, said, “The logic, or lack of logic, that was used to select the towers that would be closed is difficult to understand. It seems that little consideration was given to how these airports operate, what sort of airspace they sit in and what role individual towers play to keep flying safe. The same care that was taken to justify the existence of these towers should be taken if there is a perceived need to close them.”

In April the FAA announced that it would close 149 of its 251 contract control towers as a way of achieving cuts required by a spending sequestration measure.

While the FAA initially planned to begin closing those towers last month, legal challenges forced the Department of Transportation to postpone the closing date to June 15.

There are about 500 control towers in the nation’s air traffic control system. In addition to 251 contract towers, which are operated for the FAA by private companies, the FAA operates more than 250 control towers and air traffic control facilities.

The FAA recently announced that it would furlough air traffic controllers in its facilities as part of sequestration.

But when it did so, the resulting airline delays — and passenger complaints — prompted Congress to pass legislation that gave the FAA funding flexibility to keep the towers and control facilities fully staffed.

It is not yet clear how the FAA will use that new flexibility, or whether it will also prevent the closing of contract towers, AOPA officials noted.

Furthermore, that funding relief is only available until Sept. 30 – the end of federal fiscal year 2013. By law the sequestration spending cuts are set to continue for 10 years.

A number of municipalities and at least one individual have taken the FAA to court over the cutbacks. A June 5 hearing for the case is scheduled in Pasadena, Calif.

For more information:


  1. C. David Buchanan says

    I both agree with Kent Misegades, and wish to express an additional concern:
    These arguments make FAA infrastructure in support of General Aviation appear to be little more than “White Collar Welfare.” When our alphabet organizations become entrenched in stands of such self-interest to a limited few, they pre-arm those who will fire back at us in the near future. These arguments will become the ammunition for higher taxes and new fees for all. This fight is for things few of us need, and likely fewer of us want to pay for.

  2. Ray Winslow says

    1. Kent is correct.
    2.AOPA is also correct, but is of no useful help, as this is “get even” political garbage. Fighting politics with politicts in the Obama invironment is just what the enemy wants.
    AOPA should offer some judgement as to which towers should be closed as Kent suggested is the case. Every one of us (pilots) know of part time tower operations that could be reduced or closed.
    3. AOPA’s efforts in non-tower airport training are the next best thing AOPA can do as lots of us (pilots) need better traffic pattern manners and experience. This was not a problem 30 years ago, but seems to be today with greater differential in aircraft performance and pilot ability.
    4. Safety. May I suggest that high performace aircraft enter a VFR pattern up wind over the runway in use (offset Right for a left pattern) at minimum fap up maneuvering speed to pick their spot down wind with the slower traffic. This is especially useful in minium or restricted VFR arriving off and instrument approach. Remember that an approach does not give you right of way – judgement and manners, not dollars should prevail.
    5. What do you think?……there must be many good ideas out there!

  3. Kent Misegades says

    This is bunk. The FAA keeps meticulous records on all tower operations and evaluates their cost-effectiveness regularly. Many towers at quiet airports should have been closed years ago. It has more to do with the prestige of having a tower and the control of pilots and airport operations than actual safety. If airport owners (cities, towns, counties) do not agree with the FAA de-funding, nothing will stop them from paying the costs themselves. Times have changed. Our cockpit devices, cheap TCAS, AWOS, SuperAWOS and other tools have replaced most of the things we used to need from a tower.

    Another option worth looking at is the new remote tower concept from SAAB.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *