It appears that the town’s hiring of a lobbyist to get federal permission to operate a remote tower program at Leesburg Executive Airport has been successful.
According to a staff report presented to members of the Town Council, the lobbyist, Team Hallahan, was successful in drafting and securing language in both the House and Senate appropriation bills and Federal Aviation Administration authorization bills.
Both the House and Senate versions of the FAA reauthorization bills include language establishing a remote tower pilot program. Debate over the bills will focus on a larger issue: The House version includes privatization of the nation’s air traffic control system, while the Senate version does not. If not resolved by month’s end, it is likely that a short-term FAA extension will be passed, according to the staff report.
Even with the remote tower authorization in both bills, funding is anything from a sure thing. While Airport Commission Chairman Dennis Boykin lauded the lobbyist’s efforts to date, he said he does not believe that Congress will adopt the bills, and instead will pass a short-term continuing resolution. Boykin said a recent meeting with the FAA administrator, which included Mayor Kelly Burk, may prompt internal funding to take up the shortfall.
The move toward a remote tower program in the town airport began in 2014 when Leesburg entered into an agreement with the Virginia SATS Lab and Saab Sensis to host a test program for the first remote air traffic control tower in the U.S. The town hired Team Hallahan earlier this year to advocate for future funding and support Leesburg’s remote tower, along with its entry into the FAA’s Contract Tower Program. The county Board of Supervisors also contributed toward the $36,000 cost of the lobbyist. The goal of the remote tower program has been to increase safety and efficiency at Leesburg Executive Airport, which is the second busiest general aviation airport in the state.
Boykin said this week that testing of the remote air traffic control at the airport recently concluded. The FAA will now conduct a Safety Management Panel to review the test data and make recommendations to the FAA administrator regarding a future pilot program beginning early next year.
“The Town of Leesburg has made it clear to the leadership of the FAA that the town fully supports the installation of a fully-functional air traffic control tower at the earliest opportunity,” Boykin said.