WASHINGTON – Maryland airports will get $21 million in federal funding over the next three years, up to double the current level of support for some facilities, under a bill awaiting President Clinton’s signature.
The Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century, passed 10 days ago by Congress, increases federal funding to commercial and general aviation airports for capital improvement and maintenance projects. The bill would add $10 billion in spending on the nation’s aviation infrastructure over three years.
Baltimore-Washington International Airport would see the biggest gain in Maryland, with its federal funding jumping from the current $2.5 million a year to $5 million. Airports in Salisbury and Hagerstown would also double their funding, from $500,00 per year to $1 million each.
Cumberland, the only other Maryland city with regularly scheduled air service, is also expected to see a funding increase. But officials at the airport, which is just across the Potomac River in West Virginia, could not be reached and West Virginia transportation officials were unable to provide the amount Friday.
While the bill would mainly benefit large airports like BWI, a spokesman for Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, said money would also help establish flights to small, rural airports with little or no commercial service.
“This bill is important for rural development,” said Tony Caligiuri, the spokesman. “We could definitely see increased air service to our area.”
Salisbury’s airport manager said the additional money should help his airport attract more airlines. Salisbury is currently served only by USAir Express, which flies to Reagan National Airport, BWI and Philadelphia.
“We’re the only airport on the entire Delmarva Peninsula,” said Robert Bryant. “We’re desperately seeking a second carrier.”
Bryant said there is a critical need to modernize Salisbury’s facilities and lengthen the airport’s sole runway to accommodate regional jet aircraft that could provide service to more distant locations. He estimates that the repair and a 1,500-foot extension of the 5,000-foot runway could cost over $10 million.
“This money speeds up the timeframe to rebuild our infrastructure,” Bryant said. “It’s a start toward improvement.”
John White, a spokesman for the Maryland Aviation Administration, said one goal is to increase air service to BWI from other airports within the state, but the administration has not yet decided what it will do with its share of the increase.
Caligiuri identified two projects at BWI that Gilchrest would like to see addressed: noise abatement and keeping plane de-icing chemicals from running into nearby streams.
“BWI needs to focus on noise abatement and upgrading waste collection systems,” Caligiuri said. “This money will allow BWI to complete those projects.”
He said that in addition to commercial airports, general aviation airfield could also get a boost under the bill. In Maryland, those include airports in Easton, Eastport, Ocean City, Cambridge, College Park, Gaithersburg, St. Mary’s County and Clinton.
A Democratic spokesman for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which introduced the bill, said that general aviation airports are included because they divert private planes from commercial fields.
“The bill is designed to benefit aviation as a whole,” said Jim Berard, the spokesman. “If there were no general airports, congestion at other airports would only increase.”
He said that almost any airport is eligible for funds if it shows the money will go to improvements that will benefit air traffic. “It can’t be used for a blow-out Christmas party,” he said.
The extra funds will come from a Federal Aviation Administration trust fund financed with federal taxes on airline tickets. The bill mandates that the trust fund be used for aviation-specific projects rather than other federal programs, as is currently the case.
The bill will also let airports increase the per-ticket passenger facility charge by $1.50 a ticket. Currently BWI charges the federal maximum of $3 per ticket. White could not say whether the airport would raise its charge, but said any higher costs would be offset by improved facilities.
“The money would go to improving terminals and runways for passengers,” he said.
The entire Maryland delegation voted for the bill except Reps. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda, Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, and Benjamin Cardin, D- Baltimore. Morella praised the increased funding but criticized a provision of the bill that would allow more flights into Reagan National.
“Airport noise is a concern,” said Jonathan Dean, a Morella spokesman. “Changing the number of landing slots would damage the environment and the economic balance of the region’s airports.”