Cherry Capital Airport service threatened by budget cut
Source: The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.
Aug. 09–TRAVERSE CITY — A looming, automatic federal budget cut that threatens service at Cherry Capital Airport has some local officials geared to begin lobbying Congress.
A recent email that circulated among the nation’s airport executives lists airports that possibly could close if Congress doesn’t act to reverse a law to require across-the-board cuts to all federal programs. Cherry Capital is among 106 small airports nationwide on the list that could lose airport control tower personnel under the reductions scheduled to go into effect Jan. 2, 2013.
“This is a what-if scenario, kind of a doomsday look at the thing,” said Kevin Klein, Cherry Capital Airport manager. “It was to point out that if unilateral cuts are made, it could have a lot of effects on aviation.”
The email circulated by the American Association of Airport Executives included an analysis from a progressive Washington, D.C. think tank, Center for American Progress, on the impact of $1.35 billion in automatic budget cuts facing the Federal Aviation Administration.
Automatic cuts to all discretionary federal programs comes as a result of the 2011 battle over raising the federal debt ceiling to prevent the federal government from defaulting on its loans.
The 2011 agreement created a bipartisan super-committee of Congress that was charged with formulating a plan of spending cuts and revenue increases to address the growing federal deficit.
But the super-committee failed to reach a deal, which prompts $1.2 trillion in automatic budget reductions that are to be taken equally from all federal programs.
The Center for American Progress concludes that small airports would receive the brunt of cuts to the FAA and likely would see their air traffic controllers eliminated.
Klein doesn’t disagree small airports could get hit hard, but believes Congress won’t let the automatic cuts occur. He encouraged airport board members to contact their federal legislators to make sure they understand the economic ramifications of closing airports.
Klein also cited an agreement between the leadership of both the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate on a resolution to continue fiscal-year 2012 funding through the end of March 2013.
The House and Senate are supposed to address the proposed resolution when they return from their summer break in September. U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, who represents Grand Traverse County and served on the super-committee, was not available to comment, his spokeswoman said.
Larry Inman, Grand Traverse County board chairman and a member of the commission that oversees the airport, doesn’t share Klein’s optimism that Congress will resolve the matter.
“I have absolutely no faith in Congress,” Inman said. “I have no confidence they will come to any kind of agreement, especially during a presidential election.”
Inman said a shutdown of local airports could spell big economic trouble.
“Aviation drives the economics of the United States; it is the hub of travel and commerce,” Inman said. “The goal is to get the economy working and stimulated and by shutting down airports you are going in the wrong direction. But Congress can’t prioritize a budget.”
Ron Hubbard, manager of the air traffic control tower at Cherry Capital, said employees are in a wait-and-see mode. Local officials haven’t heard anything about what might happen on Jan. 2 if Congress doesn’t act, he said.
Klein said a loss of tower personnel won’t entirely shutter the airport. Cherry Capital operates at night now without the local tower, but only because flight volume then is low.
But losing tower employees would have a major effect on the number of flights the airport could handle during the day, especially during the busy summer months, Klein said.
“During the peak times, we have hundreds of flights,” he said. “It would reduce the amount of commercial flights, corporate flights, general aviation, medical flights, even Coast Guard activity.”
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