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Budget cuts may affect Tri-State Airport

Feb. 22, 2013 @ 11:35 PM

HUNTINGTON -- The Huntington Tri-State Airport is on a Federal Aviation Administration list of airports that could be closed if automatic federal spending cuts kick in March 1.

At issue are $85 billion in mandatory, across-the-board spending cuts this fiscal year, including cuts to the FAA, if lawmakers in Washington, D.C., do not reach a compromise by the end of next week.

Remarks from U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood issued to reporters on Friday afternoon indicated that upcoming forced government spending cuts will heavily impact the FAA, triggering flight delays nationwide and control tower closures at 100 of the nation's smallest airports, according to The Associated Press.

Besides Tri-State Airport, the list of facilities that face closure included airports in Bridgeport, Wheeling, Lewisburg and Parkersburg, W.Va., as well as Owensboro and Paducah, Ky., and five small airports in central and northern Ohio.

The information about airports was one of several areas that the Obama administration described Friday as being severely affected by the looming budget cuts.

Jerry Brienza, executive director of Tri-State Airport, called any decision to close control towers at airports across the country, including in Huntington, "unsafe, fiscally irresponsible and highly unlikely."

"It is highly unlikely our tower would just be closed without some sort of backup system. If they closed our tower, it would basically shut down our operations," Brienza said. "It's just such an outrageous thing to do, I can't see that happening."

The AP reported that LaHood described the potential closures as "harmful cuts with real-world consequences that will cost jobs and hurt the economy."

The air traffic control towers that face closure are ones that have 150,000 flights or fewer each year. Decisions on which ones to close would be drawn from a list of 200 smaller airports after discussions with air traffic controllers and airlines.

Tri-State Airport finished 2012 with 106,444 enplanements, down 6.6 percent from the previous year. Allegiant Air and U.S. Airways provide commercial passenger service there.

Brienza said the Tri-State Airport appears on these lists from time to time.

"Anytime we have some sort of fiscal cliff or sequestration or FAA shutdown, which seems like every year, we find ourselves on one of these lists," he said, adding that FedEx cargo operations could also be affected. "I'm hoping that, just like in the past, this is a 'worst case scenario' situation."

Both West Virginia senators expressed their concern late Friday over news of five state airports facing their doors being closed.

"These reckless across-the-board spending cuts to federal programs will have real impacts on our daily lives and our economy. Everyone who travels for business or pleasure will be adversely affected," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., in a statement to The Herald-Dispatch. "The Administration will never compromise our aviation safety, but practically closing airports in small communities by eliminating air traffic control services will be devastating to local economies."

LaHood also advised passengers on commercial flights at larger airports could be delayed significant amounts of time because of worker furloughs and the elimination of midnight shift duty at 60 additional airports. The full impact of the cuts would be felt as soon as April.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said essential air service is vital to West Virginia as are many programs that could be impact by across-the-board spending cuts. In a statement, Manchin called sequestration a "flawed and dangerous mechanism" to address the budget crisis and is calling for a balanced solution that puts the nation's debt on a sustainable path.

Rockefeller echoed Manchin's sentiments.

"Instead of taking a hammer to federal responsibilities that millions will rely on this year, I support a balanced approach that asks the very wealthiest to do their share to support the country and targeted deficit reduction that doesn't compromise necessary programs for the majority of Americans," he said.

Follow H-D reporter Beth Hendricks on Facebook or Twitter @BethHendricksHD.

Airports that could be affected

The Federal Aviation Administration has made a proposal for cutting approximately $600 million from its budget for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2013.

The changes could affect some of the larger markets in Ohio and Kentucky, but multiple West Virginia airports are on the proposals found on the U.S. Department of Transportation website. Here are the airports on the lists:

FACILITIES WHERE OVERNIGHT SHIFTS COULD BE ELIMINATED: Huntington Tower (HTS), Huntington; Charleston Tower (CRW), Charleston.

AIR TRAFFIC FACILITIES THAT COULD BE CLOSED: Milton J. Ferguson Field at Huntington Tri-State Airport (HTS), Huntington; North Central West Virginia (CKB), Bridgeport; Greenbrier Valley (LWB), Lewisburg; Mid-Ohio Valley Regional (PKB), Parkersburg; Wheeling Ohio County (HLG), Wheeling.



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