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Steve Van Beek, Director & Head of North American Aviation, featured in Reason Foundation

11 July 2017

Steve Van Beek, Director & Head of North American Aviation, developed a robust report for the Reason Foundation outlining how “remote towers” may be the answer to keeping smaller airports operational. However, with ongoing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) budget problems and no current program, the path forward remains unclear.

Many smaller airports’ towers are operated by contract towers, approved by the FAA when found that the benefits outweigh the costs. Studies have found that contract towers cost only 26% as much to operate as FAA towers, yet still provide equivalent services.

In 2013, 189 contract towers set to be shut down were saved by an emergency transfer of funds from the airport grants program (AIP). At the beginning of 2014, the FAA instituted a moratorium on any additions to the contract tower program – which currently has 16 small airports on the waiting list.

Remote towers offer a possible alternative to the problem. The system utilizes a pole with sophisticated video cameras and communication gear to provide information to controllers in a ground level area. Remote towers improve safety with better surveillance in unfavourable conditions, lower overall construction costs and can consolidate operating costs, making a 1.0 benefit/cost ratio easier to achieve. This approach has been shown to work in several European countries and two pilot projects in the US have been implemented through state and private money.

Yet, due to the FAA ongoing budget problems and other priorities, there is no current program to develop and implement remote towers. Therefore, the path forward for remote towers remains unclear – making the outlook of small airports unclear. However, if the Air Traffic Organization ever separated from the federal budget and was self-supported by customer chargers, remote towers would be a simple business decision.

Read the executive summary here and download the full report.

Tags: Aviation

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