Air Traffic Control:

Status of FAA's Plans to Close and Contract Out Low-Activity Towers

RCED-94-265: Published: Sep 12, 1994. Publicly Released: Oct 12, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) plans to close and contract out low-activity air traffic control towers, focusing on: (1) the potential savings that could result from such actions; (2) the factors that could impede FAA plans; and (3) actions FAA can take to enhance its strategy for reassigning controllers from closed or contracted out towers.

GAO found that: (1) FAA plans to close or contract out all of its level 1 towers appear reasonable; (2) of the 151 level 1 towers, 36 do not meet FAA benefit-cost criteria for continued operations, and FAA plans to close 23 of these towers within the next 3 years; (3) FAA estimates that it will save up to $5 million annually when it closes the 23 towers and an additional $3 million annually if it closes 12 more towers; (4) 32 level 1 towers are currently contracted out, and FAA estimates that it could save up to $120 million if it contracts out the operations of the remaining 127 towers by 1997; (5) FAA does not expect to realize savings immediately because of the short-term costs to relocate controllers to other facilities; (6) mixed signals from Congress regarding level 1 towers and incomplete Department of Labor wage determinations for each tower location may affect FAA efforts to close or contract out towers; (7) although the FAA agreement with the controllers' union will allow it to reassign controllers at the 25 towers to be contracted out in 1994, FAA does not have a strategy for reassigning controllers from towers to be closed or contracted out to higher-level facilities after 1994; and (8) FAA could incur significant costs in relocating controllers that do not succeed at higher-level facilities.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA has established procedures for converting towers to private operation that do not meet the benefit-cost criteria. To date, two such towers have been converted.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to establish procedures to ensure that the new FAA policy to close towers that do not meet benefit-cost criteria for a 2-year period is effectively implemented.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA has developed a strategy for reassigning controllers from contracted out facilities to understaffed facilities. In fact, in May 1994, FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the controller union, signed a memorandum of understanding that established procedures for reassigning Level 1 controllers from contractor-operated towers. Under this agreement, controllers can only be reassigned to a facility based on the availability of meaningful training and work. Per FAA officials, this means controllers will only be reassigned to understaffed facilities. As of August 1997, this MOU remains in effect

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to develop a strategy for reassigning controllers from contractor-operated towers to understaffed facilities and for minimizing overstaffing at other towers to be contracted out after fiscal year 1994.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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