By Kelsi Loos
The closing of Frederick Municipal Airport’s control tower will be a setback in the city’s long-term goals to attract more corporate flights and business.
But it “is not the end of the world for the airport,” said Richard Griffin, the city’s director of economic development.
Some businesses have policies against landing jets at airports without control towers, so having one helps attract flights in addition to securing a safer airport, he said.
The tower, set to close in mid-April, was built last May with $5.3 million of federal funds.
The tower is one of 149 the Federal Aviation Administration slated for closure to help save $637 million required by the across-the-board federal budget cuts known as sequestration.
“The tower kind of represented future opportunity for us,” Griffin said.
When corporate jets land, they need to be serviced and fueled, which can directly create jobs at the airport, he said.
Jet traffic also has an indirect impact on the wider community. Travelers rent cars, stay in hotels, eat in restaurants and rent meeting space, he said.
“In the long run, it means jobs and revenue at the airport,” he said.
It is unclear whether closing the tower will reduce landings in the short term, according to Griffin. If it does, businesses at the airport would be most affected.
Landmark Aviation, which services planes at the airport, could potentially see fewer clients and corporations with branches in Frederick need to adjust their travel plans, flying into Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport instead of Frederick.
Griffin said major short-term changes are unlikely, considering the tower is less than a year old and businesses that use it can easily adapt to a having an airport without a tower again.
“It is more damaging to our overall future plans to drive more corporate business to the airport,” he said.
Representatives of Landmark Aviation were not available for comment Monday evening.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association did not anticipate any major changes to overall traffic when the tower is closed.
“The visitors we have are all experienced pilots who are experienced (in) landing without a control tower,” spokesman Steve Hedges said.
The AOPA spoke to lawmakers in Washington to push to keep the tower open, saying it was an important part of safety at the airport, he said.
The change may be felt most deeply at BWI, where officials were concerned about increased crowding from general aviation flights.
“The loss of tower operations at Frederick and the other four Maryland airports could lead to additional flights at BWI Marshall,” said spokesman Jonathan Dean.
Frederick is designated as a reliever airport by the FAA, meaning it serves to reduce congestion at BWI.
Major airfield work is likely to worsen traffic even further. BWI is updating pavement and runways to meet new federal standards by 2015, Dean said.
Frederick hopes to find a way to keep the tower functioning, Griffin said, but there are no talks of the city funding it.
It takes about $600,000 to $700,000 to operate the tower, he said.