Capital News Service
WASHINGTON — Air traffic control towers at Maryland’s five regional airports could shut down on April 1 as the Department of Transportation plans ways to cut its budget should the sequester occur, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Friday.
The news left Maryland officials frustrated because without operating towers, commercial, military and general aviation air traffic could be delayed or cancelled.
Airports in Maryland that could be hit by the cuts are Easton Municipal Airport, Frederick Municipal Airport, Hagerstown Regional Airport, Martin State Airport and Salisbury-Ocean City: Wicomico Regional Airport. More than 100 air traffic control towers around the nation at airports with fewer than 150,000 flight operations or 10,000 commercial flights per year could be affected, according to LaHood’s statement.
Frederick Municipal Airport just installed its air traffic control tower last May, but its closure will still have a major impact on flights using this airport. It is the second-busiest in Maryland, with 130,000 annual flights, despite a lack of scheduled service.
The air traffic control tower is a “critical component for us out here,” Airport Manager Kevin Daugherty said. “We fought tooth and nail to get the tower.”
Lack of an operating tower could hurt Maryland businesses, Daugherty said. “There’s a lot of commercial aircraft that won’t fly into a non-towered field.”
Air traffic controllers are important because they “provide an extra set of eyes in a complicated, congested airspace,” Maryland Aviation Administration spokesman Jonathan Dean said. MAA operates the towers at Martin State Airport.
Without air traffic controllers, pilots would have to announce their positions and intentions to other pilots.
The sequester is a series of automatic budget cuts that would go into effect Friday.