Airport use is shrinking, why waste money on a project that can't promise success?

July 20, 2003|By Tim Bussard

I feel that I need to comment on the June 22 article by Commissioner Doris Nipps and the July 13 article by the Airport Advisory Commission concerning the runway extension project.

While Nipps gave us an historical overview of the airport, some important facts were omitted. As stated, there are 204 aircraft based at the airport. What she didn't say was that 196 of those aircraft are single engine or light twin engine aircraft, seven are turboprop aircraft, and one, that's correct, one - is a jet.

The 203 aircraft are quite capable of utilizing 4,000-foot runways or shorter, while the current 5,450 foot length is sufficient for the only jet based at Hagerstown.

Nipps also failed to note that in 1975, Richard Henson was the airport manager, employing three part-time employees who mowed the grass and plowed snow. I am not privy to Washington County employment figures, but my best guess is that there are at least 12 full-time, possibly more, county employees currently employed at the airport.


I can only wonder how the 1975 airport budget compares to the 2003 budget.

While the Air Force 99th Airlift Squadron does train at the airport, this activity provides absolutely no economic benefit to the region. Their aircraft arrive at the airport from Andrews Air Force Base, practice takeoffs and landings, and then depart about two hours later without any fuel, maintenance or other purchase. This occurs approximately two or three times a month. True, the extension would allow them more training, but at what benefit to Washington County?

In Nipps' article, it was printed that there were 28,109 passenger enplanements in 2000. In 2001, there was a decrease in enplanements to 25,617. In 2002 and 2003, I would venture to say that there again will be decreases.

Why? Because the fact is, the only air carrier operating out of Washington County is US Airways, while more competitive rates can be found on Southwest, JetBlue, AirTran, etc. out of the Baltimore/Washington Metro area.

It is very cost-prohibitive to fly US Airways from Washington County to Pittsburgh, and then attempt to transfer to another airline.

The bottom line is, it's faster and cheaper to drive to the Baltimore/Washington Metro area and fly on your pick of more than a dozen airlines.

Let's face it, Washington County's proximity to the Baltimore/Washington area makes it convenient to drive. As for regional jets, Washington County doesn't have the quantity of passengers to fill a 34-seat turboprop, let alone a 50-seat jet.

But the most intriguing quote in the article was "This money will be spent somewhere. Don't you think it is time for Washington County to receive these tax dollars, instead of them going to larger, more metropolitan areas?"

This should not be about the frivolous use of federal, state or local tax dollars. This should not be about spending tax dollars on the premise that if Washington County doesn't spend it, Baltimore, Frederick, etc. will spend it. It should not be about catering to a select few companies at the airport that may boost their work force by 100 employees at the cost of $60 million in tax money.

And let's not forget that $60 million in 2003 dollars could very easily become $70 million in 2007 dollars.

Have any companies indicated that they would locate to Washington County if we had a 7,000-foot runway? Or, just as important, have any existing businesses said they would leave if the extension is not built?

In my opinion, if the extension is not built, there will be no loss of current jobs or business at the airport because, with the possible exception of Northrup-Grumman - California Microwave, not one existing business is maintaining jet aircraft. And that has nothing to do with the current runway length and everything to do with the capabilities, experience, tooling and knowledge of our local aviation workforce.

Washington County couldn't keep the thousands of Fairchild jobs, what guarantees are there that any new businesses will relocate?

I thought one of the more important jobs of the County Commissioners was to look out for the best fiscal interests and wishes of the majority of taxpayers, not pander to a select few businesses and business owners. So far, only Commissioners Bill Wivell and John Munson have shown any interest in the responsible use of tax dollars.

Let's quit overstating the importance of the runway extension. Washington County is not Baltimore; it's not Washington; it's not even Frederick.

Don't attempt to make Washington County airport into a major metro airport because "the money will be spent somewhere."

One final thought in closing. If this extension becomes reality, Washington County can boast that our 7,000-foot runway beats the longest runway (6,869 feet) at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

Tim Bussard is a Hagerstown resident.

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