Easton Airport slated for federal funding

    Easton Aiport / Newnam Field tower

EASTON — A trillion dollar federal appropriations bill presently before Congress includes funding for five airport control towers in Maryland, including the one at Easton Airport/Newnam Field.

Last year, 149 federally contracted air traffic control towers nationwide were under threat due to potential budget cuts and the government sequester.

The U.S. Department of Transportation planned to close 149 federal air traffic control towers, but in April of last year, Congress passed legislation that allowed the Federal Aviation Administration flexibility to shift funding to prevent furloughs of air traffic controllers and keep the towers open.

Funding included in this year’s omnibus appropriations bill totals at $144.5 million for all 149 federal contract air traffic control towers.

“This bill is good news for federal contract air traffic control towers and the communities and jobs that rely on them,” Senator Mikulski said.

Mikulski is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and she was instrumental last year and this year to secure the funding the control towers.

The other four federal contract air traffic control towers that it would fund are Frederick Municipal Airport, Hagerstown Regional Airport, Martin State Airport and Salisbury-Ocean City Wicomico Regional Airport.

“In recent years, these contract towers and their communities have faced shutdown, furloughs and uncertainty,” Mikulski said. “I will keep fighting to ensure the continued operation of our regional airports, making our nation safer and our economy stronger.”

Mike Henry, the airport manager at Easton Airport, said that based on traffic activity, out of the 252 total contract towers in the nation, Easton’s is number 85.

In Fiscal Year 2014, Henry said the control tower at Easton guided 62,296 flights, up from 48,707 the previous fiscal year.

The biggest factor to that increase was a contract that Trident Aircraft, a pilot training service at Easton Airport, had with the U.S. Naval Academy to train 302 midshipmen from June through August.

But, Henry said, “We’re still seeing somewhere on the 10 to 12 percent increase” in flights each month without the Trident contract.

The facilities at Easton Airport are conducive to flight training and recreational flying, including the instrument landing system, which helps pilots and future pilots better gauge where they’re coming down for a landing, especially in bad weather.

“Working with the tower, that’s another requirement to become a pilot,” Henry said

Besides training, Henry said the airport is at an all-time high regarding aircrafts based there. The airport has 202 aircrafts based there, 22 of those being jets.

“There’s a very significant personal and recreational aspect to our activity here as well,” Henry said.

Last year, when the sequester happened, Easton Airport air traffic controllers were in danger of being furloughed, like many other federal employees.

This year’s omnibus appropriations bill totals $1.1. trillion, and the airport traffic control tower funding is only a small part of that bill. The bill includes funding for every facet of government through summer of 2015, except Homeland Security funding, which runs out at the end of February.

On Thursday, the bill was passed in the House of Representatives by a narrow margin.

But, the deadline to pass the appropriations bill was Thursday night, so the Senate later passed a two-day extension of the current funding in order to work on the bill and pass it.

The alternative to passing the omnibus appropriations bill or the short-term continuing resolution would be another government shutdown like 2013’s, Jorgenson said.

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