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

Gao ID: CED-81-100 June 1, 1981

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.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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