Manassas airport control tower avoids budget cuts, seeks assurances for future

March 26, 2013

While the control tower at Manassas Regional Airport has been spared thus far from federal budget cuts, local airport officials hope the Federal Aviation Administration will provide them with a more definitive answer on what to expect in the future.

The tower was on the original list of those slated for closure, but it may have been spared because of its proximity to the District and associated national security issues, said Juan Rivera, the airport’s executive director.

The FAA listed several criteria for allowing an airport tower to remain open, including “significant” impacts to national security; whether the closure would mean an adverse economic impact locally; if transportation, communication or financial networks would be disrupted; and whether an airport serves as a “critical diversionary” spot for a large hub.

Because the Manassas airport’s tower is manned by federal employees instead of contractors, by law they can only be furloughed with 12 months notice, officials say, which would mean airport officials would have significant time to prepare.

Still, Rivera would like the FAA to provide more certainty. An FAA spokeswoman, Laura Brown, said she could not address Manassas’s situation specifically.

“Not knowing has a chilling effect on your ability to market the airport and develop the airport,” Rivera said.

Rivera said he is considering writing a letter to the FAA in order to gain a definitive answer about whether the airport’s tower might be targeted for closure in the future.

The FAA announced the closure last week of 149 control towers at mostly small airports. Other airports in the state and region were affected: Lynchburg Regional in Virginia; and at Martin State outside of Baltimore, and in Easton, Frederick, Hagerstown and Salisbury, all in Maryland.

Rivera said that the airport’s proximity to the District means that pilots have to file special flight plans and be in constant contact with control towers, security measures implemented after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Those factors could have influenced federal officials’ decision to leave the control tower open, Rivera said. However, airport officials did not receive a definitive answer on why their control tower was allowed to stay open, leaving uncertainty about whether it could be targeted in the future.

Lori Aratani contributed to this report.

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