Hagerstown Regional Airport makes its pitch to keep tower open

March 13, 2013|By JULIE E. GREENE |
  • In this file photo, people board an Allegiant MD-80 at Hagerstown Regional Airport for a flight to the Orlando, Fla., area.
Herald-Mail file photo

HAGERSTOWN — Hagerstown Regional Airport’s proximity to Camp David and the possible economic effect on businesses at the airport are reasons the Federal Aviation Administration should consider keeping the airport’s air traffic control tower open, Airport Director Phil Ridenour said Wednesday.

Wednesday was the deadline for airports to pitch to the FAA why their control towers should remain open as the FAA prepares to enact cuts due to the federal budget cuts, known as sequestration.

FAA officials will review submitted letters and make decisions on March 18 and are expected to announce March 20 which towers will remain open or will close, Ridenour said.

Ridenour said his letter, addressed to Michael Huerta, the FAA Administrator, and David Grizzle, chief operating officer for the FAA’s air traffic organization, was emailed Monday afternoon to the FAA.

In a letter to the local airport, the FAA stated it would only consider information concerning how the closure of particular tower operations would adversely affect the national interest, Ridenour said.

“Basically, we talked to them about the close proximity to Camp David,” Ridenour said.

That proximity comes into play at least two ways.

Control tower operators at the local airport “provide eyes-on support” regarding the no-fly zone that has been in effect around Camp David since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Ridenour said.

Air traffic controllers can see planes approaching the no-fly zone on radar and can often prevent violations, he said.

The airport’s proximity to Camp David also means it is one of the primary airports for VIP flights to Camp David, Ridenour said. VIPs on their way to the presidential retreat in northern Frederick County, Md., might arrive at Hagerstown Regional Airport on a plane and take a motorcade or helicopter to Camp David, he said.

Ridenour said, in the letter to the FAA, he also talked about general aviation use of the airport as well as the possible economic effect on businesses based at the airport if the tower were to close.

“We don’t know what the impacts are gong to be at this point,” Ridenour said. But, closing the tower could have a negative economic impact, he said.

The FAA is supposed to take a 5 percent to 8 percent cut, however the agency is proposing a 75 percent cut to the federal contract tower program, which the local airport participates in, Ridenour said. Midwest Air Traffic Control is the contractor for the local airport and has six employees who work in the tower, he said.

Ideally, there would be no impact on the local control tower, Ridenour said.

“Everybody realizes there has to be some cut,” Ridenour said, but closing the tower is “drastic.”

If the FAA keeps the tower open, but cuts 5 percent to 8 percent of funding across the board, Midwest Air Traffic Control would determine what cuts to make for the local tower, Ridenour said. Airport officials would provide input, but the contractor would make the decision, he said.

If the FAA cuts 5 percent to 8 percent, “(we) can make something work to keep the tower open,” Ridenour said.

If the tower closes, pilots on the ground would have to depend on one another to tell everybody where they are, Ridenour said. Once they are in the air, they would communicate with the Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center in Leesburg, Va., he said.

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