Phillip G. Ridenour: A Few Seats Don’t Speak for the Whole Cabin
September 30, 2017
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  • Hagerstown Regional Airport/Richard A. Henson Field is one of the oldest continuously operating airports in the United States. For nearly 70 years, Hagerstown connected consumers and businesses with the rest of the world, stimulated the local economy and ensured our safety with access to emergency services. Unfortunately, the impact of smaller airports like Hagerstown and much of the aviation industry flies under the radar and lacks the appreciation it deserves.

    Hagerstown aviation facilitates a vast industry ecosystem, nurturing 14 aviation-related businesses that contribute about $109 million in revenue, support approximately 1,600 jobs, and offer about $10 million in state and local taxes into our local economy.

    Programs such as the Young Eagles, Wings and Wheels Expositions, and organizations like Civil Air Patrol and the Experimental Aircraft Association attract additional revenue and offer educational services to the community. Hagerstown ranks second in overall job production and business revenue in Maryland after Martin State Airport, per a recent study of 35 publicly owned airports.

    Hagerstown Regional Airport’s economic and community impacts translate into the quality of life we enjoy here in the Hub City. It’s a revitalizing engine that means jobs and buildings. But unfortunately, some special interests in Washington seek to starve this engine.

    Some in Washington are lobbying Congress to privatize air-traffic control through legislation that would establish a private board. The members of this board would have the power to make a range of decisions, from how resources are divided between the big hub airports and community airports like ours, to decisions about taxes and fees, and even determine routes and access.

    With this concentrated power in the hands of a few key decision-makers, I have real concerns about Hagerstown having access to the resources it needs to thrive. In a competition over resources within the system, where decisions are made based on the interests of the members of the board, resources can be directed away from smaller airports. We are a burgeoning airport with a lot of potential, but we would almost certainly lose out in a privatized system.

    Beyond continued access for our airport and others like ours, the members of the board will be able to shape the system in other ways that reflect their priorities to the expense of the public interest. The national airspace system does not simply exist to support a select few, but serves a critical role in other government and humanitarian functions, such as national defense, border security, emergency services and disaster response. As a public asset, paid for and managed ultimately by the flying public, these critical roles are supported. But for private, self-interested members of the board, making decisions for the system based on a balance sheet, there will be no incentive to ensure that these roles and capabilities are looked after.

    Access to aviation means a lot to our community and the nation. Privatizing the air-traffic control system would put this system in jeopardy, and might leave us without the resources we depend on.