Local airport officials, lawmakers react to plan to transfer funding

An infusion of federal funding could keep airport control towers open after all, including the one at Williamsport Regional Airport.

Congress voted late this week to give the Federal Aviation Administration the authority to transfer up to $253 million from other accounts to prevent reduced operations and staffing at airports nationwide.

Local airport officials, however, said while the legislation is promising, it doesn’t close the deal once and for all.

“It doesn’t eliminate the possibility of our tower closing,” said Williamsport Municipal Airport Authority Board Chairman Mark Murawski. “It does allow the transportation secretary to move money around. So it could prevent it.”

The tower was set to close operations Sept. 30.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Thomas J. Hart, executive director, Williamsport Municipal Airport Authority.

Hart also said the Legislation does not mean money is guaranteed to the local airport.

But he remains optimistic.

The Senate passed the measure Thursday.

House approval came Friday.

U.S. Reps. Thomas Marino, R-Cogan Station, and Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Howard, both voted in favor of the legislation.

Marino was not readily available for comment, but issued the following statement to the Sun-Gazette: “Since the president’s sequester went into effect on March 1, the Administration has been doing everything within its power to make these cuts as painful as possible for the American people. The president refused to give the FAA the flexibility it needed to absorb the budget reductions by manufacturing a crisis that resulted in 40 percent of flights being delayed.

“Two-thirds of FAA’s budget is directly funded by 17 federal airline taxes and fees, and it is shameful that this Administration would attempt to avoid providing travelers with the services for which they are charged. This is a far cry from the leadership a president is supposed to demonstrate and I am glad that House and Senate Democrats joined Republicans in a common-sense solution to the president’s latest political stunt.”

Murawski noted that federal funding provides about 80 percent, or $400,000 of funding to operate the tower at the local airport.

A total of 149 air traffic control towers including the one at Montoursville were set to be closed.

The local tower is one of six in the state facing a shut down.

Local officials have expressed the need for the tower, citing increased air traffic due to natural gas activity in the region. In addition, the Little League World Series every August brings visitors to Williamsport from around the globe.

Hart said airport officials have been in contact with federal lawmakers about the funding issue since the FAA made the decision to close control towers and furlough workers.

Thompson accused the Obama Administration of playing politics and ignoring its responsibility to reprioritize spending and avoid furloughs of air traffic controllers.

“The legislation passed today (Friday), reaffirms my commitment to keeping our skies safe and will hold the White House accountable for its actions that ignore the needs of our economy and the safety of the traveling public,” he stated.