M.V. Airport supports funding for contract tower program

Martha's Vineyard Airport relies on a contract air traffic control tower, as opposed to an FAA control tower. - Nelson Sigelman

A coalition of aviation groups has written to the House Committee on Appropriations to support the vital role that contract air traffic control towers play in improving safety and saving tax dollars. The Martha’s Vineyard Airport tower is a contract tower.

According to a press release from the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE), the aviation groups asked that language be included in a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) appropriations bill to ensure contract towers can continue to operate without interruption.

The House committee is working on an FAA appropriations bill that will set the agency’s funding for fiscal 2018. The letter — sent by AAAE, the U.S. Contract Tower Association (USCTA), and other aviation groups — wants language ensuring that the contract towers are fully funded at $159 million. The language would require that the money come from existing accounts, and not need new appropriations.

Ann Crook, airport manager, told The Times on Tuesday that the Vineyard tower is funded by this program. She said a contract tower is not only essential to airport safety, but is also important for a visitor-based economy like the Vineyard’s, where air traffic and the variety of plane sizes increases seasonally.

“Congress is considering funding for the FAA over the next couple of years, so that letter is encouraging the budget makers in Congress to fully fund this contract tower program,” Ms. Crook said.

Contract air traffic control towers provide air traffic separation and navigational assistance near the airport, just like an FAA control tower does. The difference is that employees who work in contract towers are not considered federal employees. They are employed through a contract.

“Through funding this program, contract controllers are able to provide the safety services we need a lot more efficiently and at less of a cost,” Ms. Crook said.

Ms. Crook said that the program is completely funded through the FAA, but the money comes from fees on airline tickets, aviation fuel, and jet fuel, meaning that if you don’t fly, you don’t pay for it.

Ms. Crook said she enjoys working with contract towers as opposed to FAA towers. “From my own experience, I feel like they add a level of customer service that the FAA doesn’t, because they’re private contractors,” she said. All contract tower controllers still have to be certified through FAA standards, Ms. Crook said, and are often retired FAA or military controllers, who in many cases are more experienced.