Loudoun County will pitch in to help win funding for a new type of air traffic control tower at Leesburg Executive Airport.
Leesburg airport has all the equipment set up and tested to operate a remote air traffic control tower, and is seeking to join the Federal Contract Tower Program to pay for one. If accepted, the federal program would bear the cost of operating a virtual air traffic control tower at Leesburg airport, but the Federal Aviation Administration put a moratorium on new entrants to the program in 2014.
The Leesburg Town Council voted to spend $36,000 on a federal lobbyist to try to win an exception. The county will now pitch in $1,000 a month, up to $12,000 in support of the effort.
A remote tower system places cameras and other equipment all around the airport, but rather than construct an actual tower, air traffic controllers can work in a space anywhere.
Board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn), who served in the U.S. Air Force, said he had a tour of the facility.
“As a former pilot, I gotta say, this is really cool stuff,” he enthused during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. “Frankly, you can see better than you can from the real control tower, because you can pan and zoom the cameras.”
Leesburg Executive Airport is the second-busiest general aviation airport in the state at 115,000 aircraft operations a year. Only Manassas has more traffic. According to Airport Commission Chairman Dennis Boykin, building a tower on the airport could cost upwards of $6 million, while building a control facility remotely could cost less than $4 million. Operating the facility is estimated to cost around $650,000 a year, a cost that would be borne by the federal program.
A Virginia Airport System Economic Impact Study published by the Virginia Department of Aviation in 2011 said the Leesburg airport contributes approximately $78 million to the local economy annually and is responsible for more than 600 jobs with an estimated payroll of $32 million. According to airport manager Scott Coffman, 250 aircraft are based at Leesburg.