From staff and wire reports
5:50 PM EDT, April 5, 2013
The closings of control towers at 149 small airports, including the one at Hagerstown Regional Airport, are being delayed until June 15, federal regulators announced Friday.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Friday it needs more time to deal with legal challenges to the closures. The closures were due to begin this weekend because of governmentwide spending cuts and to run through the first week of May.
Hagerstown’s tower was set to close May 5, airport Director Phil Ridenour said Friday.
“I’m sure hoping that it’s a good sign that they’re reconsidering the (tower) closures in general,” Washington County Commissioner John F. Barr said.
Barr said both political parties in Washington need to sit down and come up with a better way of cutting the fat out of government, rather than seeking partisan advantage.
Despite the delay, the FAA said all 149 of the airport towers, which are operated by private contractors for the agency, will be shut down or turned over to local authorities on June 15. The new schedule is to implement the shutdowns at once, rather than a gradual phase-in as had been planned.
“We still need to keep fighting the fight” to keep the tower open, Ridenour said, citing support from Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Benjamin Cardin and U.S. Rep. John Delaney.
“I find myself fighting for the tower many hours a day,” Ridenour said. That includes other efforts to keep the tower operating, even if the FAA cuts its funding.
Washington County Board of Commissioners President Terry L. Baker has signed a letter to Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley asking that the state fund 75 percent of the cost of keeping the tower open through Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year, Ridenour said.
When the closure date was May 5, the figure for keeping the tower open was $217,000, but that would be less if the closure is delayed by several weeks, he said.
Airports in Frederick, Easton and Salisbury, Md., made similar requests of the governor, Ridenour said.
Washington County has not entered into any legal challenges to the closure, preferring to wait to see the outcome of those other challenges, Ridenour said.
Also, about 50 airport authorities and other “stakeholders” have indicated they want to fund the operations of the towers themselves rather than see them shut down, and more time will be needed to work out those plans, the agency said in a statement.
Ridenour said the county had not told the FAA that it intends to fund tower operations, but has made inquiries with the agency about the costs associated with running the air-traffic control tower.
“The best option is for the federal government to end the sequester and keep the towers open,” he said.
The first 24 tower closures were scheduled to begin Sunday, with the rest coming over the next few weeks. Obama administration officials have said the closures are necessary to accomplish governmentwide automatic spending cuts required by Congress.
The U.S. Contract Tower Association, which represents the companies that operate contract towers, has challenged the closures in federal court.
“The administration has decided to make tower closures the poster child of sequestration (automatic spending cuts),” said J. Spencer Dickerson, the association’s director. “We believe there are other ways they could have skinned this cat.”