Maryland’s U.S. senators are confident that an assurance last week from U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will mean that the 149 small airport control towers — including one at Frederick Municipal Airport — will remain open for the rest of the federal fiscal year.
Congress recently passed a bill that allows the Federal Aviation Administration, which falls under LaHood, to transfer funding from airport improvements and other areas to keep from furloughing air-traffic controllers at major airports.
The bill passed after the automatic budget cuts, sometimes called “the sequester,” passed by Congress in a 2011 budget deal had resulted in hundreds of flight delays and cancellations.
The bill allows LaHood to shift up to $253 million in the FAA budget to keep from furloughing the air-traffic controllers. But congressional leaders had not been immediately certain that the smaller airport towers with controllers under contract to the FAA would remain open past an agency-imposed June 15 deadline, the third date that had been set for their closing.
But Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D) of Baltimore and Benjamin L. Cardin (D) of Pikesville said in a joint statement May 1 they believe LaHood’s guarantee that he now has enough funding to keep those towers in operation.
The FAA needed $200 million to avoid furloughing air-traffic controllers and $30 million to keep the 149 contract air control towers open, said Susan Sullam, a spokeswoman for Cardin.
“The crisis created by furloughing air traffic controllers and the plan to close the nation’s federal ATC contract towers only served to highlight the fact that sequester is not good policy,” the senators said in the joint statement.
“It’s destructive to our economy, reducing employment when we should be stimulating it and damaging priorities that are important to the American people. From harmful cuts in Head Start and Meals on Wheels to education programs and biomedical research, sequester is a meat-ax approach with mindless cuts that will continue to reverberate throughout our economy,” the statement said.
Calls to the FAA were not returned, and LaHood’s office issued no statement. The cuts to the FAA budget were part of an $85 billion, across-the-board reduction in federal spending.
In his letter sent Friday to LaHood, Rep. John Delaney said he was pleased that the FAA now had funding flexibility to keep the towers open, including Frederick’s and Hagerstown’s, two of the five smaller contract towers in Maryland that faced closure before the congressional action.
The Hagerstown and Frederick airports represent more than $200 million in business revenue and more than 2,500 jobs, and their closure would have meant more planes diverted to the already overcrowded Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, said Delaney (D-Dist. 8) of Potomac.
“I voted for [last week’s] bill because I think sequestration is the wrong approach to solving our budget problems and will continue to advocate replacing the rest of sequestration,” Delaney said. “In the meantime, I look forward to seeing air traffic, and the econmic benefits it brings, return to a state of normalcy.”