What Are Contract Towers?

FAA Federal Contract Tower Program Overview

USCTA Web 2Through the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Contract Tower Program, the agency contracts air traffic control (ATC) services to the private sector at visual flight rule (VFR) airports. Since its inception in 1982, the program has received positive endorsements from all parties involved, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Department of Transportation (DOT) Inspector General (IG), airport management, Congress and, most importantly, the users of the aviation system.

A total of 251 airports participate in the program as of Jan. 1, 2013. Airport managers note that government budget constraints could force the closure of many of these facilities if they were not part of the FAA Contract Tower Program. FAA contract towers receive continuous oversight and monitoring by FAA and all contract controllers are certified by the agency. Members of Congress and DOT/FAA point to this program as an example of how FAA, in partnership with local governments and the private sector, can provide an important service to aviation users at a substantially reduced cost to taxpayers.

The American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) created the U.S. Contract Tower Association (USCTA) in 1996 to promote the contract tower program and to enhance aviation safety at smaller airports. USCTA coordinates contract tower issues on a regular basis with Congress, DOT/FAA, NTSB, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the DOT IG.

The primary advantages of this program are enhanced safety, improved ATC services and significant VFR ATC cost savings to FAA. A new DOT Inspector General audit of the FAA Contract Tower Program, released Nov. 5, 2012, concluded that FAA contract towers continue to provide cost-effective and safe air traffic control services and operate at a lower cost than similar FAA-operated towers.