Rock Hill airport likely safe from federal budget cuts

adouglas@heraldonline.comMarch 8, 2013 

Federal spending cuts that will slash about $600 million from the Federal Aviation Administration budget aren’t likely to affect operations at the Rock Hill-York County Airport.

“We’re not going to see anything, really,” said Eric Ramsdell, airport administrator.

The Rock Hill runway – located 20 minutes south of Charlotte-Douglas International Airport – could experience a delay in certification of new equipment scheduled for installation later this year, Ramsdell said.

But the delay won’t affect the airport’s operations because the new equipment is just an enhancement of communication instruments already on the ground in Rock Hill, he said.

There’s a good chance the certification delay won’t even happen if the federal government finds a different way than sequestration to deal with the spending debate between Democrats and Republicans, Ramsdell said.

The federal budget cuts imposed by the March 1 “sequestration” law will affect several regional airport tower operations in South Carolina and North Carolina, including Concord, Florence, North Myrtle Beach and Greenville.

Concord Regional Airport, home to the closest regional runway to Rock Hill, learned this week that it will have to close its control tower, the operation of which is paid for by federal money.

Local officials in North Carolina say they want to keep Concord’s control tower open despite the cuts, because losing the tower would affect the city’s bottom line.

The loss of Concord’s tower could mean officials would re-route some flight traffic to Charlotte-Douglas, but the regional airport would not close.

Many NASCAR charter flight companies use the Concord airport, which also could see financial loss by selling less jet fuel and renting less space in its hangars.

Without Concord’s tower, Charlotte air traffic controllers would be responsible for handling take-offs and landings at the Concord airport. Charlotte’s tower staff is facing unpaid furloughs beginning next month.

Concord’s aviation director and city officials say they’re reviewing options to pay for the tower without federal dollars but aren’t sure how much longer the airport control tower can stay in operation.

Rock Hill isn’t likely to benefit from Concord’s loss of its tower, Ramsdell said.

Pilots probably won’t consider landing in Rock Hill to reach the Charlotte area, he said, because planes need the resources that airports with towers such as Concord and Charlotte-Douglas airports provide.

The Charlotte Observer contributed.

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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