April 10-For Reading Regional Airport to operate efficiently, it needs to know how much federal funding to budget year to year, airport officials told U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello Friday.
But in the last few years, they said, aviation funding has come through a series of short-term extensions of an old funding bill, rather than a new long-term bill. That means funding is unpredictable and budgeting for major projects — such as repaving runways — becomes a challenge.
That’s a problem, they said, because a healthy airport is key to growing business in the surrounding area.
“All economic redevelopment, the airport is involved and it’s usually first,” said airport authority board member Jeff Schatz. “So it’s a critical part of any economic recovery.”
Costello, a Chester County Republican, visited the airport Friday to meet with the facility’s officials and the businesses and pilots that use it. After the meeting, he toured the grounds, control tower and a few tenant businesses.
The freshman lawmaker sits on the congressional subcommittee that handles aviation policy. That’s a topic he’s far from an expert in at this point, he admitted to the group of a dozen airport officials and users gathered in the departure lobby. So he said he’s relying on constituents in the aviation industry to fill him in.
“What I want to do here today is learn as much about the airport as possible,” Costello said.
Attendees discussed speeding up the process for federal aviation approvals and changes that would ease the medical clearances needed to pilot small planes for recreation to match those for “sport pilots,” who fly two-seat aircraft.
Airport officials focused on funding. The latest extension of the aviation bill expires in September.
Congress is looking to put a long-term bill in its place but must resolve debates over whether to raise fees on airline tickets and whether the air traffic control system should remain under federal control, be privatized or become an independent agency.
With funding uncertain, airport officials said, projects have to be broken into pieces. That drags out the work and increases the price tag, they said.
Airports have to start projects — sometimes funding the engineering themselves — without knowing whether they’ll get money to finish, said Airport Manager Terry Sroka.
“It’s a lot of money for an airport such as Reading to front a half a million dollars for a project and not know if that project’s going to come to fruition,” he said.
Contact Liam Migdail-Smith: 610-371-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org.