But officials in Frederick aren’t giving up on keeping their tower open, and a decision last week by the Federal Aviation Administration to delay the closures has given them more time. Joining with officials from other Maryland counties affected by the closures, Frederick officials are asking the state for money to keep the towers operating.
On Capitol Hill, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), a vocal critic of the closures, and a bipartisan group of senators plan to introduce legislation this month to keep the towers open. And several communities across the country have sued the Federal Aviation Administration to block the closures.
Whatever happens, the uncertainty over the tower has unsettled community leaders in Frederick and threatened the economic promise that accompanied the stimulus funding last year.
Frederick’s traffic tower, like hundreds of other stimulus-funded projects across the country, was billed as a way to create jobs in a struggling American economy while improving everything from roads to airport safety. But if Frederick can’t keep the tower open, it may become an empty 106-foot-tall monument to partisan inertia and, some say, government waste.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” said Frederick’s airport manager, Kevin Daugherty, during a recent interview in his office overlooking the tower. “This is the world of mixed messages — ‘Yes, you need a tower for safety. Here’s $5.3 million.’ Fast-forward to 2013, and now it’s, ‘Oh, not so much.’ ”
Nearly 1,000 controllers, including the seven at Frederick, could lose their jobs because of the potential closures. “It’s so frustrating to see government work so poorly,” Moran said. “This whole thing is not just unnecessary — it’s poor government.”
Under the sequestration, the FAA must cut $637 million from its budget before Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. The FAA estimates it will save $30 million to $40 million by closing towers at airports that have fewer than 150,000 takeoffs and landings a year. In 2012, Frederick logged about 130,000, but airport officials had predicted that the number of flights would grow to 165,000 by 2020.
But Frederick has served as a relief valve for vastly larger Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport. Some worry that closing the Frederick tower and similar ones in the state will push more air traffic to BWI.
In a conference call with airport managers last week, FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta said the decision to close the towers was difficult and emphasized that safety will remain a top priority. In making the cuts, he told the managers, the FAA focused on smaller airports, where the impact would be less widely felt.