FAA Contract Tower Program

About the FAA Contract Tower Program

Contract towers are air traffic control towers that are staffed by employees of private companies rather than by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employees. The FAA Contract Tower (FCT) Program was established in 1982 to allow the agency to contract out the operation of certain towers.

Congress has directed the FAA to assess current and prospective program applicants and award limited grants to plan and develop additional contract towers.

To be admitted into the FCT Program, the safety and efficiency benefits of a tower must exceed its costs. The FAA is required to perform benefit-cost analysis (BCA) to determine eligibility for participation in the FCT program.

Program Status:

  • The FCT Program is administered by the FAA's Air Traffic Organization. The BCA assessments are conducted by the FAA's Office of Aviation Policy and Plans.
  • The FCT Program provides air traffic control services at towers throughout the United States (including Hawaii), Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • The current contracts, which cover the costs of air traffic control services, cover a five-year period, beginning July 2015.
  • 250 contract towers are operated under national contracts awarded to Midwest Air Traffic Control Services, Serco Management Services Inc., and Robinson Aviation (RVA) Inc.
  • Six FCTs are operated under an Interagency Agreement with the Air National Guard.
  • There are approximately 1,400 contract controllers, all of whom meet the same qualification and training requirements as FAA air traffic controllers.
  • FCTs provided service for more than 15 million operations in FY18.
  • FCTs represent 49 percent of all the Federal air traffic control towers in the United States.

Program Eligibility:

Contract Tower Program:

To participate in the FCT Program and be eligible to receive Federal contract funds, an airport must, among other requirements, have an approved operational tower and receive a benefit-cost ratio of at least 1.0 from the FAA.

  • The contract covers the costs of air traffic services.
  • The individual airports are responsible for funding capital expenses, including construction and maintenance of towers.
  • Partial funding may be available under the Airport Improvement Program statute (Title 49 U.S.C. § 47124) for the portion of tower improvements that have been determined to be grant eligible.
    • This provision allows the FAA to consider AIP grant funding to help an airport with construction or equipment for a tower that is approved to enter the FCT program.

Cost Share Program:

  • If costs exceed benefits for certain towers already in the FCT program, the local tower sponsor is provided the opportunity to remain in the FCT program as part of the Cost Share Program, paying a pro-rata share of the tower operating cost.
  • For airports currently participating in the Cost Share Program, the FAA will conduct BCA annually.
  • For airports with towers that are currently fully funded participants in the FCT program, the FAA will conduct BCA if operations at that facility drop by 25 percent in a single year or 55 percent over a three-year period.
  • The local proportion of the cost share is capped at 20 percent.
  • Airport sponsors have a 12-month grace period before being required to assume the local cost share.

How to Apply:

  • Program Participation Review Process & Timeline:
    Benefit Cost (BC) ratios for conditional approval of new applicants/candidates will be good for 5 years.
  • Application Package Request to Project Implementation Manager (PIM)
    Airport Sponsors should express interest in the FCT Program to the Service Area PIM. Upon notification of an Airport Sponsor's interest in participating in the FCT program, the FCT PIM will send the Airport Sponsor an FCT application package.
  • Benefit Cost Analysis (BCA)
    How is the BC ratio developed?
    The BC ratio is developed by using airport-specific information to estimate the benefits of establishing and operating a tower and comparing those to the airport-specific costs of having tower services. Total benefits are the sum of benefits from safety (avoided accidents) and efficiency (avoided aircraft operating cost and passenger value of flight time savings). Costs reflect the capital investment costs for establishing a tower (when these are paid by the FAA) and the annual operating and maintenance costs paid by the FAA. Both benefits and costs are projected for 15 years and discounted. The BC ratio equals discounted benefits divided by discounted costs.

    How often does the FAA recalculate the BC for FCTs?

    • In the case of an air traffic control tower that is operated under the Cost-Share Program, the FAA calculates the BC ratio on an annual basis.
    • In the case of an air traffic control tower that is operating in the FCT program, the FAA shall only calculate if traffic at the airport decreases by:
      • More than 25 percent from the previous year; or
      • By more than 55 percent cumulatively in the preceding 3-year period.
  • AIP funds
    • Airport sponsors will follow the procedures for AIP grants
    • Contract tower projects can be funded with AIP Small Airport Fund, state apportionment, or entitlement funding.

Current Towers

There are currently 262 contract towers, for which the FAA pays for air traffic control services on a contract basis.

Contact Information

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FCT Program Implementation Managers (PIMs)

  • Eastern Service Area (ESA): 404-305-7153
  • Central Service Area (CSA): 817-222-4261
  • Western Service Area(WSA): 206-231-2892

Additional Resources

Last updated: Wednesday, March 15, 2023