FAA Misses Opportunities To Discontinue or Reduce Operating Hours of Some Airport Traffic Control Towers

CED-81-100: Published: Jun 1, 1981. Publicly Released: Jun 1, 1981.

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not taken effective action to discontinue economically unjustified airport traffic control towers or to reduce the operating hours of control towers which meet the criteria for reduced operations. GAO reviewed these actions in the interest of identifying ways in which economies could be achieved by FAA in providing air traffic control services to the Nation.

FAA does not have uniform discontinuance criteria for the control towers it operates to control traffic in and around airports. FAA operates 444 towers at a cost of over $400 million a year. In 1969 and again in 1975, FAA revised its criteria for use in identifying control towers for discontinuance. With each revision, the criteria became more stringent. However, FAA also established grandfather clauses by making the more stringent 1975 criteria, which included a benefit-cost analysis, applicable only to towers established or approved for establishment during or after 1977. This lack of uniform criteria has resulted in the continued operation of economically unjustified control towers. FAA could save an average of $287,000 annually for each tower the agency closed. FAA is not surveying air traffic activity levels at some 24-hour control towers to identify possible reductions in hours of operation. Two regional offices had not conducted any surveys since 1977. When surveys were conducted and candidates were identified in the three regions reviewed, FAA seldom completed or documented additional required evaluations. GAO surveyed 17 control towers, 16 of which had traffic levels identifying them as candidates for reduced operating hours according to the FAA criteria. FAA could save salary and other costs of $47,000 annually at each control tower at which operating hours were reduced.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should require the Administrator of the FAA to establish time limits for completing required staff studies to determine whether candidates can be safely and efficiently part-timed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should require the Administrator of the FAA to document and clearly justify the decisions made as a result of the staff studies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should require the Administrator of the FAA to survey activity levels of 24-hour control towers to identify candidates for reduced operating hours.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should require the Administrator of the FAA to institute procedures to ensure that the criteria are applied periodically and that discontinuance of candidate towers is actively pursued.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  5. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should require the Administrator of FAA to identify control tower candidates for discontinuance by adopting uniform criteria which require (1) an economic analysis based on up-to-date benefits and costs and (2) consideration of noneconomic factors, such as topography or the frequent occurrence of severe weather at each airport.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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