Davis introduces bipartisan bill to bolster rural number of federal air traffic controllers

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) on Dec. 4 cosponsored bipartisan legislation to offer financial incentives that would help federal contract towers in rural areas recruit and hire well-qualified, retired Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air traffic controllers.

“Many of our smaller airports across the country operate using contract towers, but current restrictions under the law are discouraging air traffic controllers from working in our rural areas,” Rep. Davis said. “Ensuring contract towers are properly staffed is critical to safety and the local economies these airports serve.”

Rep. Davis is the lead original cosponsor of the Continuity for Operators with Necessary Training Required for ATC Contract Towers (CONTRACT) Act of 2019, H.R. 5297, with bill sponsor U.S. Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA), which would provide for a full annuity supplement for certain air traffic controllers. Among the four other cosponsors is U.S. Rep. Troy Balderson (R-OH).

“This bill will help our contract towers recruit and retain controllers by allowing federal controllers to continue receiving their Social Security annuity payment while working at contract towers,” explained Rep. Davis.

Currently, there are 256 air traffic control facilities participating in the FAA’s Federal Contract Tower Program. FAA air traffic controllers are required by law to retire at age 56, which consequently means they lose a portion of their Social Security benefits if they continue to work, according to information provided by Rep. Davis’ office.

If enacted, H.R. 5287 would eliminate this penalty for those who choose to work as controllers at federal contract towers, according to the information.

The bill has garnered the support of Carl Olson, executive director of the Central Illinois Regional Airport; Tim Wright, airport director at the Decatur (Ill.) Airport; the American Association of Airport Executives; the U.S. Contract Tower Association; and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.