Funding Shift Prevents Airport Tower Shutdown

SALISBURY — The planned closure of the air traffic control tower at the Salisbury-Ocean City-Wicomico Regional Airport slated for next month has been put on hold after Congress authorized the shifting of up to $253 million to avoid the tower shutdown at the Salisbury facility and nearly 150 similar rural airports around the country.

In the wake of stark federal budget cuts handed down under the guise of sequestration earlier this year, massive furloughs of federal aviation employees and the closure of air traffic control towers were planned at 149 rural airports across the country including the Salisbury-Ocean City-Wicomico Regional Airport and five others in Maryland. The closure of the air traffic control tower at the Salisbury airport was originally set for this April, but a temporary solution moved the shutdown date back to June 15.

Last week, however, the closure of the air traffic control tower at the Salisbury airport and others was suspended for at least five more months if not indefinitely. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced on Wednesday that Congress had passed legislation authorizing U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to shift up to $253 million from various other accounts to prevent the planned furloughs of air traffic controllers.

“We are pleased Congress acted to keep our nation’s air transportation system fully operational,” said Maryland’s U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski this week in a joint statement. “Secretary LaHood has moved quickly to keep air traffic controllers on the job and the federal air traffic control towers open and operational. However, the solution announced by the secretary solves the problem only for the next five months.”

In April, Maryland’s Congressional delegation sent a letter to LaHood urging the FAA to postpone the closure of air traffic control towers in Salisbury and was effective in getting the planned closures pushed back initially.

While the closure of the air traffic control tower at Salisbury’s airport would impact certain sectors using the facility, it would remain business as usual to a large extent. Salisbury Airport executive director Dave Ryan told the Wicomico County Council last week the large commercial carriers such as Piedmont and U.S. Airways would continue to use the facility regardless, but the airport’s significant military presence would likely be curtailed.

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