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Determination of the Effect of Air Traffic Control Services on the Level of Airport System Aircraft Operations

I.                    Research Problem Statement:


Several airport sponsors each year approach the FAA seeking to establish an air traffic control tower under FAA auspices and with substantial FAA financial support.  The FAA last revised its criteria document in 1990, Establishment and Discontinuance Criteria for Airport Traffic Control Towers.   FAA’s cost benefit model for evaluation of contract towers is based upon the methodology described in this document and updated to reflect more recent economic and operational values for fuel, aircraft operating costs, accident rates, traffic operations, etc.   The benefits of providing visual air traffic control services are captured by three categories of benefits:  (1) prevented collisions between aircraft in the air, (2) other prevented accidents (generally on the ground), and (3) the benefits of reduced flying time (savings in aircraft operating costs and traveler time). 


Airport sponsors frequently bring up a potential benefit that is not directly accounted for outside FAA’s standard “unconstrained” forecast of aviation activity.  Airports have suggested that the establishment of a tower will increase overall airport activity levels while also improving safety.  FAA is interested to learn if the establishment of air traffic control services at an airport is likely to increase the aircraft operations at that airport.  Additionally if the base airport’s activity increases above any historic or regional trend does this change in activity come at the expense of another local regional airport? 


II.                 Objectives:      


1.      Determine if the establishment of an air traffic control tower providing visual air traffic control advisories results in a measurable increase in air traffic operations at the newly “towered” airport when compared to before its commissioning. 


2.      Determine if the establishment of an air traffic control tower providing visual air traffic control advisories at an airport results in a measurable increase in air traffic operations in the region’s system of airports when compared to before the tower’s commissioning.  


3.      (Option) Develop a study design for further investigation of how insertion of an enhanced air traffic management service and/or technologies effects aviation activity levels and propose how this might be used to conduct performance analysis of NextGen initiatives. 



III.               Research Proposed:     


Develop a database and analyze historic trends for airports with and without visual air traffic control tower services.  Cull information from past records of airport activity before (i.e. Form 5010s, fuel flowage records, airport records, ETMS etc.) and after (tower counts, fuel flowage, ETMS, etc. ) commissioning of visual control towers at a representative set of airports along with FAA Terminal Area Forecast information.  Account for changes in regional, cyclical, and secular, or one time shocks that could mask the underlying effects.  Develop a statistical model to test hypothesis of the effect on the insertion of visual tower services as the instrumental variable. 


(optional) Develop a standardized approach or model for measuring the effect of the insertion of an enhanced air traffic control or navaid service on aviation activity levels. 


IV.              Estimate of the Problem Funding and Research Period: 

Recommended Funding:      ACRP Graduate Research Program topic or

                                                                  $ 35,000

                                          (option)            $15,000


Research Period:                4 – 8 months


V.                 Urgency and Payoff Potential:  


The Federal Contract Tower Program has been well received  by both the airport community and Congress growing from a handful of former FAA visual control towers to over 230 today funded by a variety of FAA, Department of Defense (Air Force and ANG), and a score of local governments or airport authorities.  FAA’s Contract Tower Program office is aware of over a score of potential new applicants.  FAA’s recent reaffirmation of its published policy to fully account for all capital, labor, and other operations and maintenance costs will raise the investment threshold for new entrant towers and for towers seeking continuation of theses services.  It is equally important to capture the full range of reasonably expected benefits.  If the insertion of new air traffic management and navigational services increases the utility of air transportation services by improving reliability, safety, and capacity FAA should attempt to recognize this outcome by incorporating such findings within the benefit cost analysis framework. 


VI.              Related Research:        


ACRP 04-03   Guidebook for Approach Light System Hazard Assessment and Mitigation

Sponsoring Committee:AV020, Aviation System Planning
Source Info:VIII. Person(s) Developing the Problem:

Robert Samis, Economist, FAA/APO-200, (202) 267-9449, robert.samis@faa.gov

IX. Process Used to Develop Problem Statement:

Discussed problem statement within APO and ATO Terminal Services Contract Tower Program office.

X. Date and Submitted By:

Bob Robeson, Manager, Systems & Policy Analysis Division, Office of Aviation Policy and Plans, Federal Aviation Administration
Date Posted:08/03/2008
Date Modified:08/03/2008
Index Terms:Aircraft operations, Travel time, Air traffic control facilities, Air traffic, Air traffic control, Accident rates, U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Federal Aviation Regulations,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Operations and Traffic Management
Planning and Forecasting
Terminals and Facilities

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