Delaware airport’s runway extension up in the air

News out of Washington, D.C. is that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have reached a compromise to end the partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration.  The shutdown did affect some Delaware airports.

In a statement Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did not provide specific details of the deal, but other officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, say they expect the Senate to accept a House-passed deal as early as Friday. Two sticking points — air service to rural communities and union organizing.

The partial shutdown furloughed nearly 4-thousand FAA workers, stalled more than 200 airport construction projects and cost the government about $30 million a day in uncollected airline ticket taxes.  Unfortunately, for Sussex County Airport, the FAA dispute meant its 500-foot runway extension project might still be in jeopardy.

Among those furloughed were the FAA employees in charge of reviewing Sussex County Airport’s runway extension proposal.

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“Until they come back, there is no money available for our runway project or any of the other projects that we have planned for this year,” said airport manager Jim Hickin.

Even if all goes according to plan, and Congress reauthorizes the FAA to carry out business as usual, the clock is ticking. The federal government’s fiscal year ends at the end of September.

“It’s a little bit frustrating. We’ve been rushing to get things done to take advantage of the 2011 money, and you know, right at the point where we’re about ready to submit the grant paperwork and move forward, this all happens,” said Hickin.

Hickin warns if the FAA isn’t able to complete its review process on the runway extension before the fiscal year ends, the 2011 money is gone permanently, and the Georgetown airport will have to start looking at 2012 money. That, he says, could delay the start of construction to 2013. Originally, Sussex County Airport expected runway construction to be completed by 2013.

Congressman John Carney (D-Del.) praised the end of the dispute.  He said there is a practical reason to bring back the FAA. 

“This agreement will also ensure that the U.S. does not lose out on more than $1 billion in airline ticket tax revenue. In September, the House and Senate must sit down and agree on a long-term solution that protects workers and keeps our skies safe. We can’t go through another political standoff like this that threatens the basic operations of government, Carney said.”

U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) has been a big backer of the project. The story of the airport expansion was profiled on a recent broadcast of First on WHYY-TV.

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