Airport boss says cuts no cause for concern
One day after the President of the United States signed a bill regarding sequestration, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport Director Barry Centini scoffed at the notion his airport would be one of the casualties of the potential across-the-board spending cuts.
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama signed the Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012, which requires him to provide details within 30 days on how sequestration – severe budget cuts to most federal agencies – would be implemented if enacted on Jan. 2. The legislation also requires the directors of federal agencies, such as the Federal Aviation Administration, to develop a plan and submit it to Congress, detailing how they would deal with such cuts.
According to Todd Hauptli, the senior executive vice president of the American Association of Airport Executives, the FAA is still developing a plan for how it would cope with the projected $1.35 billion, or nine percent, cut from its annual budget. However, a study done by the American Center for Progress – a liberal think tank – suggests the administration likely would have to close more than 100 U.S. airports, including the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport to decrease its expenditures and meet the budget reduction.
Despite all of that, Centini says he isn’t concerned about the airport’s future.
“I don’t think that 106 airports are going to be shut down across the country, no matter what happens with the sequestration,” Centini said. “I’m positive, not just sure, that this airport will remain open.”
Though Centini is optimistic about the airport’s future, Hauptli says a large-scale slash of air-traffic and control services at U.S. commercial airports remains a possibility.
“The FAA has four buckets of money: the airport improvement program, the facilities and equipment account, the research and engineering development account and the operations account,” Hauptli said. “As a federal grant program, the airport improvement program is almost certainly exempt from the sequester, leaving three buckets they can deduct from.”
Of the three remaining “buckets,” Hauptli says only the operations account – which funds all employee salaries – contains enough funds to make a difference, if such a budget reduction was deemed necessary.
“No one knows what is going to happen, but Scott Lilly’s proposal is absolutely a possibility,” said Hauptli, referring to the author of the CAS study. “We will know a lot more in a month when all the agencies, including the FAA, send in the proposal of how they would deal with a sequester.”
Under the Budget Control Act of 2011, signed into law by President Obama, the Congressional Joint Select Committee of Deficit Reduction must develop a plan for an additional $1.5 trillion in savings over the next 10 years. If the plan is not approved by Congress by Jan. 2, or does not reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion, the law will trigger the budget sequestration.
If triggered, the budget sequestration would target a $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions – split between the non-defense and defense spending – over a 10-year period.
In that case, most federal non-defense agencies, including the FAA, will face between an 8 and 10 percent annual budget cut, according to the study.
Corey O’Brien, Lackawanna County commissioner and a director of the airport’s bicounty board, believes the FAA will look elsewhere if a slash in air-traffic control services at U.S. commercial airports is deemed necessary.
“The federal government and local government has invested a great deal of money at our airport,” he said. “Closing an airport likes ours that has been fully renovated over the last five years wouldn’t make a lot of sense.
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