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Delaney visits Hagerstown Regional Airport to talk about sequestration

March 09, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com
  • U.S. Rep. John Delaney visited the Hagerstown Regional Airport to speak with Washington County and airport officials about the possible affects that automatic federal spending cuts could have on the airport.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

U.S. Rep. John Delaney visited the Hagerstown Regional Airport on Friday, taking time to speak with Washington County and airport officials about the possible affects that automatic federal spending cuts, known as sequestration, could have on the regional airport.

Delaney, the U.S. representative for Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, said the cuts could slash funding to the Federal Aviation Administration severely, potentially causing the closure of Hagerstown’s air traffic control tower.

“That’s what I’m concerned about,” he said.

Early proposals show that cuts could affect smaller airports, such as Hagerstown Regional, more than other programs, Delaney said.

“The airport can stay open without a tower, but the airport’s ability to function and handle volume is significantly enhanced with a tower,” the congressman said. “And having a tower, I think any pilot will tell you having an operating tower on site increases the safety of the airport.”

Under the current sequester guidelines, the FAA plans to cut federal contract towers that don’t have at least 150,000 operations per year and less than 10,000 commercial operations, according to Phil Ridenour, director of the airport located north of Hagerstown.

“We fall below that. We’ve had the highest number of operations in the last 10 years with about 56,000, but we fall way below that 150,000 mark,” he said. “As a result of that, (the FAA) could shut our tower down.

“The problem with the cuts from the federal government side, particularly through FAA, they are proposing to cut 75 percent of all contract towers,” Ridenour said. The cuts across the board are about 5 percent to 8 percent. "But the 75 percent cut completely puts us out of business. And that’s very hard for us to take from an operational standpoint.”

With the support of Washington County Commissioners, Ridenour said they plan to write a letter to federal leaders, urging them to allow Hagerstown’s tower to stay up and running.

County Commissioner William B. McKinley said the airport, which has the second longest public runway in Maryland behind Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, should be held in higher regard by federal lawmakers because of its proximity to Camp David and Washington, D.C., making it a very strategic location especially in the event of a disaster or national security threat.

“We just hope that we can identify ourselves or define ourselves as being special because of our location, and that the FAA would agree with us ... and say, ‘don’t touch this airport,’” McKinley said, who also noted the negative impact that shutting the tower down would have on numerous businesses that utilize the airport.

Allegiant Air, with non-stop service to Orlando, Fla., and Sun Air International, which offers daily service to Dulles International Airport in near Washington, D.C., both operate commercial flights out of the airport.

Ridenour said having a control tower on-site only increases safety, both in the air as well as on the ground. When the airport is closed, air traffic is controlled and monitored from a control center in Leesburg, Va., McKinley said.

County officials have led the charge in pushing for funding to replace the current tower at the airport, which was dismantled and brought to Hagerstown from Florida in 1974, Ridenour said.

Airport officials have concerns with sight issues for air traffic controllers due to the tower’s general lack of height and the potential for larger buildings to be built on the 665-acre air field.

Delaney said he wants to see that the tower stays open and plans to work to find a way to build a replacement.

“The Hagerstown airport has been very successful,” he said. “It’s been growing, and I view it as an important resource for obviously Washington County and all of Western Maryland.”

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Editor's note: This story was changed on Thursday, March 14, 2013 to correct the proposed across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending and departments, which include the Federal Aviation Administration, to be 5 percent to 8 percent.

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