ATO spin-off allows for future remote technology

A revamped Air Traffic Organization would have both the resources and the incentive to embrace the safer and more cost-beneficial use of remote tower technology, according to a new report from The Reason Foundation which supports spinning off the nation’s ATC into a non profit corporation.

Those benefits would further extend to medium and large airports that need to replace their aging conventional towers, or to add tower capability to serve new runways – as Chicago O’Hare and Dallas-Fort Worth airports have been forced to do by adding conventional towers.

The report claims a self-sustaining non-profit corporation would be much better placed to consider the safety, cost and personnel advantages of remote towers, unlike the way air traffic services are delivered by the FAA today, where there is little management incentive or imperative to consider such changes.

“The United States’ chronic budget problems have resulted in it having no remote tower programme with the only two pilot projects – at Leesburg, Virginia and Loveland, Colorado funded by state and private money,” writes report author Stephen Van Beek who adds that the outlook for small airports – whether that means new contract towers or the development of a remote tower strategy – is generally unclear under the status quo.

“Were Congress or the FAA to permanently lift the moratorium on new contract towers,” he adds, “it is unclear where increased budget dollars for the programme would come from, given the agency’s inability to fund much needed replacements of its larger, aging facilities such as en route centres and TRACONs. Likewise, the likelihood of the FAA creating a budget for a new remote towers programme seems very low, despite the obvious benefits this would provide to airports of all sizes.”

He adds that were the Air Traffic Organization separated from the federal budget and made self-supporting from customer charges, like its counterparts in Europe, moving ahead with remote towers would be a far simpler business decision, as part of overall modernisation and facility replacement and consolidation.

In June 2017, advocates for contract towers and remote towers lobbied Congress to include provisions in the House and Senate versions of imminent reauthorisation legislation that would push forward these alternatives.

While the Senate language included these provisions without recommending overall air traffic control reform, the House incorporated contract towers and remote towers in its effort to revamp air traffic control.

Bruce Westerman who serves as a member of the House transportation and infrastructure committee said the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act would benefit small and rural communities through improved airport infrastructure, advanced remote tower technology, and a strengthened contract tower programme.

“Remote tower technology is a new concept and its viability is currently being tested in multiple locations. It has the potential to greatly improve functions at rural airports by allowing such facilities to maintain tower service for a far lower cost. This technology allows for unmanned towers to be utilised in order to bring service to airports that had previously been unable to support such usage. Under the 21st Century AIRR Act, funding continues the testing and implementation of remote air traffic control tower technology.

“Communities would also benefit from a strengthened contract tower programme under this legislation. Rural and remote airports would continue to receive uninterrupted service while other rural communities could enter the programme without delay due to FAA inaction. Current caps on the grant programme would be eliminated. This would ensure contract tower construction, equipment, and technology acquisitions continue unimpeded, which would ensure safety and service in the communities under contract.

“Should closure of a tower be proposed, communities, tower owners, and private citizens would be given the option to challenge the closure. Under the current system, an unelected bureaucrat in Washington can cancel a contract with only a 30-day notice, leaving a community without any means of air transportation.”

 

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