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Sky's the limit?

July 14, 2003|By Anton Dahbura

Recent statements of a Washington County official and articles in the paper have raised a question as to the affordability of the proposed runway extension at Hagerstown Regional Airport.

At the County Commissioners meeting where this issue was first raised by staff, no firm figures or analysis were offered to support the concluding statement "you can't afford it."

This was because the details of the initial offer from the Federal Aviation Administration had only just been received and no serious staff work had been performed. The County Commissioners, to their credit, unanimously voted to continue negotiations with the FAA to seek a workable approach to the project.

As members of the Airport Advisory Commission, we are committed to the process of informing the community and its leadership about what is a most important economic opportunity for our community.

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Before Hagerstown and Washington County walk away from air transportation and the high-paying, job-generating potential of the aviation industry, it must consider the benefits it will forego and fully investigate the hard facts that should be the basis for such a serious and far-reaching decision. We ask the community to bear in mind:

The need for this project has been largely mandated by changes in FAA regulations that will increase our existing runway safety areas at the ends of our runways, consequently reducing our effective runway length to less than 5000 feet, which will practically obviate its usefulness for commercial and most corporate applications.

Hagerstown Regional Airport has a storied history of profitable commercial airline operation, which is critical to continue for economic development in the region.

Even in today's difficult economic climate, more than 50,000 passengers used our airport last year. The overall picture for passenger service is positive, but only if there is a prospect that commuter jets seating 30-50 passengers can be used, since the airline industry is transitioning rapidly to using this type of aircraft.

The airport is a job generator. The numerous small, high-tech, well-paying businesses on the field have positioned our airport as one of the most significant centers for aircraft maintenance and repair east of the Mississippi River. These operations, as well as anticipated new businesses on the field, depend on a longer runway to accommodate a broader range of aircraft and could leave if the runway is not extended.

The FAA grant of $47 million, the largest federal grant for airport improvement ever made to a community of our size, together with additional Maryland Aviation and state transportation funding of more than $10 million, covers the vast majority of the project's expense.

Washington County will be responsible for about $2.6 million for the project itself and for the cost of financing the gap between the time project expenses occur and the time the FAA grant payouts occur. The amount of the financing cost and options for paying for it are what the county is currently studying.

The construction project itself will generate hundreds of jobs and business opportunities with resulting revenue streams for several years.

The newly created foreign trade zone at the airport will be adversely affected if there are significant runway restrictions and much of its potential for growth will be lost.

The runway extension is a project that many Washington Countians have worked hard to obtain for our region. To undertake this project means that we embrace the benefits and opportunities of air transportation and the aviation industry for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren. We will not have an opportunity of this magnitude for economic development again.

Airport Advisory Commission
Hagerstown Regional Airport
Anton Dahbura, Chair
Tom Henderson, Vice Chair
Gordon Crabb
Spence Perry
Harry Reynolds

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