DOT Reports Contract Towers Are Better than the FAA’s

Outsourced towers beat FAA towers in safety and cost efficiency.

Air Traffic Control Tower
Air Traffic Control Tower

In its fourth review of the 30-year-old Federal Contract Tower (FCT) program, the Department of Transportation’s Office of the Inspector General found the outsourced towers both less expensive and safer than those staffed by FAA controllers.

On average, an FCT tower costs $1.5 million less than a comparable FAA tower, according to the report. Those findings were based on comparing 30 randomly selected FCT towers with 30 FAA-operated towers.

The savings are mainly in staffing levels and salaries at the 250 contract towers, which are operated at relatively low-activity airports. The report notes that additional review of annual payouts to FCT controllers by the FAA could lower costs even further by ensuring the financial terms of the contracts are enforced.

In the review, the DOT cited 197 safety incidents at 240 randomly selected FCT towers; compared with 362 such incidents at 240 FAA-staffed towers with comparable traffic levels. The Inspector General’s report noted that contract towers are not included in voluntary reporting systems, such as the Air Traffic Safety Action Program, and recommended that the FCT facilities be included in the future.