April 5, 2013

FAA delays closing of airport control towers

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

"None of the formulas have been updated since 1990, despite a very significant change in the aviation operating environment and the general aviation and commercial accident rates," the FAA said in a statement in response to questions from The Associated Press. "The FAA is in the process of updating this policy."

Agency officials offered no explanation for the oversight.

"The FAA methodology likely overestimates present-day collisions," the Congressional Research Service said in a recent report.

Initially the cost-benefit ratios were to be recalculated every two years, but that didn't happen, said David A. Byers, an aviation professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a consultant to the companies that operate the towers. If they were recalculated now, some airports would certainly fall below the FAA threshold for funding, he said.

Of the nation's 5,000 public airports, only about 10 percent have control towers. Those without towers generally have relatively few flights, and pilots coordinate takeoffs and landings among themselves.

Airport towers are prized by local communities as economic boosters, particularly in rural areas. Airlines are sometimes reluctant to schedule flights to airports where there are no on-site air traffic controllers.

Former Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., a critic of the contract tower program, said he refused to allow lawmakers to insert provisions into bills requiring the FAA to pay for new control towers at airports in their districts when he was chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

"We couldn't always stop it in all instances in the appropriations process, particularly when a bill comes from the Senate and it has a designation of funding for a particular tower," Oberstar said.

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