More Flights Could Mean Longer Airport Tower Hours In Leesburg

The COVID-19 pandemic has had many local residents taking to the skies, and keeping Leesburg Executive Airport’s flight schools quite busy. That increased activity has led the town to request the Federal Aviation Administration allow the town to operate its remote tower until later in the evenings.

The Town Council recently approved a resolution to authorize Airport Director Scott Coffman to request extended operating hours from the FAA for the airport’s remote tower. Leesburg was the first airport in the nation to use the technology when it debuted in 2019, following a partnership with Saab Sensis Corporation, the Virginia SATS Lab, and the FAA Office of NextGen. In lieu of constructing a physical tower, the remote tower system places cameras and other equipment all around the airport, allowing air traffic controllers to work in any space, even off airport property. The remote tower eventually moved off airport property altogether into a larger space in a county-owned building along Miller Drive.

Currently, through its contracted service provider, the FAA is funding air traffic control services at the airport for 10 hours each day, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., according to a staff report. After the initial COVID lockdowns of last spring lifted, the airport’s flight schools saw a steady increase in activity and each month since, with the exception of February, has seen an average monthly activity increase of 20% over the prior year. A new flight school, ATP, debuted at the airport April 1, only adding to the activity.

A staff report stated that current airport traffic does not significantly decrease until after 8 p.m., so the adopted resolution requests that Coffman ask the FAA to fund the additional two hours a day of tower services. It is unknown what the costs would be to the town if the FAA does not agree to fund the additional two hours daily.

The proposed request is for the extended hours daily through Oct. 31. Coffman said this week the FAA has received the town’s request, but it is unknown when a decision will be made.

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