Editorial: Funding WW Airport tower is federal responsibility

By:  The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin Editorial Board
Source: The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin

If airport control towers weren’t necessary, why are they — or, at least, why were they — standard at just about every decent sized airport in America? Having a control tower makes flying safer. 

Yet, the federal government has been cutting funding for control towers at the nation’s smaller airport as a way to save money. Given that we live in a city with a smaller airport, that trend seems foolish and dangerous. 

To this point, the Walla Walla Regional Airport has been able to maintain its tower. 

And now, thanks to legislation pushed through Congress by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Walla Walla’s tower is gong to stay, as are towers at other regional airports in Washington. 

The legislation approved by the Senate earlier this month will fund control-tower operations here and save the Port of Walla Walla, which operates the airport, about $100,000 a year. The Port had been funding the tower in a cost-share deal with the federal government. 

In addition to Walla Walla, other Washington airports in Spokane, Yakima, Tacoma, Olympia, Bellingham and Renton will receive full funding for their contract towers. 

Under the legislation previously approved by the House and now the Senate, airports under the Cost Share Program that have at least 25,000 annual passenger boardings will be financed by the Federal Aviation Administration. 

“Regional airports are a critical economic driver for communities throughout Washington state,” Cantwell said in a prepared statement. “From Walla Walla to Bellingham, ensuring these communities have thriving airports helps grow small businesses and create new jobs.” 

It also ensures that passengers flying out of these smaller airport are safe. 

While the Port can afford the $100,000 a year in the Cost Share Program right now, there is no guarantee that wouldn’t increase dramatically. Nor was it a sure thing that the federal government would continue to split costs. 

Getting this legislation approved puts the responsibility of funding air safety back where it belongs: with the federal government. Keeping the towers operating in Walla Walla and throughout the state was the right call by Congress.