Contract towers just as safe, but cost less

Air traffic control towers staffed by private contractors are cheaper and provide the same level of safety as towers staffed by government controllers, a new audit by the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General concludes. According to a report at, contract towers cost on average $537,000 a year to operate, compared with $2 million for comparably busy towers staffed by the FAA. In addition, the contract towers had a “significantly lower number and rate of safety incidents,” the report said,

Could NextGen be hacked?

Computer security experts worry that the Next Generation Air Transportation System, known as NextGen, is vulnerable to hackers. Reporters from NPR talk to one hacker who says he could place “ghost planes” in the system, essentially causing chaos. They quote him: “If you could introduce enough chaos into the system — for even an hour — that hour will ripple though the entire world’s air traffic control.” Check it out here.

Contract towers equal in safety, less in cost

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The 250 air traffic control towers operated under contract to the FAA handle 28% of all operations, but cost only 14% of the budget, according to statements before an aviation subcommittee whose members expressed concerns about possible severe cuts in operations if the President’s threatened automatic budget sequester goes into effect in January.

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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.

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Controllers honored

Two Chicago Center controllers guided the pilot of a general aviation plane with icing conditions, a lost localizer and low fuel to a safe landing. A team of three Seattle Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) controllers directed the pilot of a plane that had run out of fuel at 3,200 feet to the nearest airport. A Denver Center controller saved the life of a pilot and his wife by instructing the pilot’s wife to an emergency landing route after the pilot became incapacitated from lack of oxygen during the plane’s ascent.

These three remarkable flights assists, and seven others from around the country were honored at the National Air Traffic Controllers Association’s (NATCA) eighth annual Archie League Medal of Safety Awards banquet, part of NATCA’s annual safety conference.

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