I know some uncontrolled airports can have more operations per day than many controlled airports. That got me wondering what the process is for the change to a towered, controlled airport. I know a control tower was recently built (2005) at Provo, UT (KPVU) which is the second busiest airport in Utah.

  • Is there simply a threshold of average operations/day? Do the number of accidents and incidents come into play?
  • Does the FAA start the process or does the community have to lobby for the tower?
  • Who pays for the tower, is it all federal FAA funds or does the state and city where the airport is located pay?
  • Are there any US airports where towers are being built or considered? Given the recent sequestration and how close we came to having over 100 towers shut down, I'm guessing any current plans are on hold.
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    $\begingroup$ Here is a case from my youth I remember at an airport near me. Here our Senators had to get the money from Congress appropriated, while the FAA was not behind the project. articles.latimes.com/1988-05-01/local/… Appears the process, at lease back in 1988, involved politics between local leaders and the FAA, ( recent incidents as well as traffic levels considered) $\endgroup$
    – Stanley
    Commented Jan 22, 2014 at 3:14
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    $\begingroup$ Good article, thanks. "The FAA recommends a control tower if at least 200,000 yearly takeoffs and landings occur". I'm sure there's more criteria than just operations/year, some class B airports might not exceed 200,000 ops/year. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 22, 2014 at 21:14
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    $\begingroup$ @GeoffreyGallaway You are right, KCLE, KMSY, KMCI, and KPIT all have less than 200,000 operations per year. (The lowest is KMCI with 129,489.) $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 2:16

1 Answer 1


I finally found an AOPA article that discusses requirements for a control tower.

They say:

The FAA has the authority to establish control towers or discontinue control tower services through the National Airspace System when activity levels and safety considerations merit such action.

In order to open a new tower, there must be a positive Benefit-Cost ratio (which is a complicated thing to calculate). The FAA typically pays for the cost, and here is the criteria that they list:


According to FAR Part 170.13, the following criteria, along with general facility establishment standards, must be met before an airport can qualify for a control tower:

  1. The airport, whether publicly or privately owned, must be open to and available for use by the public as defined in the Airport and Airway Improvement Act of 1982;

  2. The airport must be part of the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems;

  3. The airport owners/authorities must have entered into appropriate assurances and covenants to guarantee that the airport will continue in operation for a long enough period to permit the amortization of the control tower investment;

  4. The FAA must be furnished appropriate land without cost for construction of the control tower; and

  5. The airport must meet the benefit-cost ratio criteria specified herein utilizing three consecutive FAA annual counts and projections of future traffic during the expected life of the tower facility. (An FAA annual count is a fiscal year or a calendar year activity summary. Where actual traffic counts are unavailable or not recorded, adequately documented FAA estimates of the scheduled and nonscheduled activity may be used.)

The FARs specifically state that an airport is not guaranteed to receive a control tower, even if the airport meets all the criteria listed above. This is where the contract tower program comes in. The FAA, responding to an airport sponsor's request for an air traffic control tower, can elect to establish a contract tower. The FAA can either elect to pay for the service in its entirety, or enter into a cost-sharing agreement with the sponsor, depending on the results of the benefit-cost analysis. Typically, the airport sponsor is responsible for 10 percent of the cost of construction and operations.

For the Benefit-Cost calculation, they use the following criteria:

Site-specific activity forecasts are used to estimate three categories of tower benefits:

  • Benefits from prevented collisions between aircraft.
  • Benefits from other prevented accidents.
  • Benefits from reduced flying time.

Explicit dollar values are assigned to the prevention of fatalities and injuries and time saved.

Tower establishment costs include:

  • Annual operating costs: staffing, maintenance, equipment, supplies, and leased services.
  • Investment costs: facilities, equipment, and operational start-up.

The article contains a lot more information, along with links to the relevant regulations, etc.


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