There was some good news mixed with some uncertainties when Hagerstown Regional Airport Director Phil Ridenour briefed the Washington County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.
On the good side, Allegiant Air, which operates twice weekly flights to Orlando from the airport, had nearly 4,800 passengers between Jan. 4 and Feb. 25, Ridenour said. Its planes were at 93 percent of capacity on departures, or 154 passengers per flight, he said.
Departures averaged about 88 percent of capacity last year, he said.
Ridenour told the commissioners that this Friday he will meet with representatives of Allegiant to discuss the possibility of opening a route from Hagerstown to Myrtle Beach. Direct Air had scheduled flights to Myrtle Beach that ended in 2011.
However, Friday is also the day that federal sequestration — across the board reductions — could take effect, which could threaten the operation of the air traffic control tower at the airport. Even if Congress and the president cannot come to a deal to avoid sequestration, Ridenour said the tower would not be closed immediately.
A decision on what towers would close would not come until at least April 1 and the process for closing one could take months, Ridenour said. Even then, Allegiant and Sun Air International, which runs commuter flights to Dulles International Airport, could still take off and land, he said.
Some of their flights already occur at hours when the tower is not in operation, Ridenour said. When the towers is closed, take-offs and landings are handled by Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center in Leesburg, Va., he said.
If sequestration does happen and towers in the region close, that puts more pressure on the air traffic control system at Washington Center, Ridenour said. It also creates safety concerns on the ground at Hagerstown Regional Airport as the pilots would be responsible for the movements of their aircraft on taxiways and runways, he said.
As for replacing the current tower, the Federal Aviation Administration has no towers funded in the upcoming fiscal year, Ridenour said.
“From the FAA standpoint, it’s pretty slim,” Ridenour told the commissioners.
There are several steps in getting a new tower, Ridenour said, including a siting study, a benefit-cost analysis and application to the FAA.
Last year was the busiest the airport has seen in 10 years, Ridenour said. There were more than 56,000 take-offs, landings, training exercises and other operations at the airport, he said.
Construction is also underway on three new hangars and construction of new building for the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics is ongoing, Ridenour said.
The airport also has a contract with AvPorts of Dulles, Va., to create a comprehensive marketing plan to attract more businesses and flights, Ridenour said. The plan is scheduled to be completed by May, he said.