Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Peninsula airport disputes budget-cut warning

Leaders of Newport News' airport reject the assertion that the facility could be shut down for lack of air traffic controllers if federal budget cuts begin next year, an airport spokeswoman said Wednesday.

"That's ridiculous," said Jessica Wharton, marketing and public affairs director for Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport. "There has to be solution on the budget, but shutting 106 airports is not the solution and we are not going anywhere."

U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, who warned of the possible shutdown earlier this week, said Wednesday that the threat is real but can be avoided.

The Newport News Democrat said during a Norfolk forum on Monday that if Congress doesn't head off $1 trillion in automatic budget cuts set to begin in January, reductions in funding of the Federal Aviation Administration would mean the loss of air traffic controllers.

 He cited a study released earlier this month by the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, that stated that Newport News airport, Roanoke Regional Airport and 104 other airfields could lose their controllers and be forced to close.

Wharton said Newport News airport operators don't accept the think tank's findings.

"This airport is not going to shut down," she said, noting that it contributes $350 million to the regional economy. "We are in Hampton Roads to stay."

Scott said in a statement Wednesday that the center's analysis "is an accurate assessment of the possible outcome" of the budget cuts. He said the American Association of Airport Executives has acknowledged the findings are a possibility.

The $1 trillion in automatic cuts over 10 years - known as sequestration - were set in motion last year when Congress failed to reach a compromise to reduce deficit spending.

Scott argues that the reductions in government services are so severe that Congress needs to allow all or most of the George W. Bush administration's tax cuts to expire to reduce the deficit without cutting federal programs.

In his statement, Scott said he thinks Congress will find a way around the sequester but noted that "elected officials have a responsibility to be open and honest" about the repercussions of the budget cuts on government services.

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