Congressional disputes over extending the Federal Administration Aviation's Trust Fund has placed 651 state residents on furlough and delayed the allocation of $720,000 to local airports.
The lack of extension means 639 who work at the William J. Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township, will be placed on furlough beginning Saturday morning. Some 4,000 FAA employees will also be placed on furlough across the country.
The U.S. Senate did not extend the trust Friday due to amendments placed on the bill by U. S, House of Representatives. Republicans added a provision eliminating about $8.5 million in subsidies for airline service to 13 rural communities in 10 states. None of the affected communities are located in New Jersey.
The senate adjourned this afternoon without extending the fund, according to a release form Congressman Frank LoBiondo, R-2, who called their decision "extremely irresponsible and indefensible."
LoBiondo said the furlough will cause an unnecessary and avoidable hardship for the employees. "
"The House has done its part and passed an extension, and now the Senate needs to do the same," he said.
U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Thursday many of the local furloughed employees were working on research and implementation of the NextGen Air Traffic Control System.
The FAA would not allow employees at the Tech center to be interviewed Friday.
Beyond the furloughed employees, the non extension will not impact operations at area airports. But the move does suspend $762,000 to local airports for specific projects funded through the federal agency.
The FAA was scheduled to give payments to the South Jersey Transportation Authority ($171,000) for the Atlantic City International Airport. There were also payments scheduled to airports in Hammonton, Lakewood, Ocean City and Toms River ($127,500), Millville ($58,000) and Cape May ($23,000).
Statewide $44.7 million in FAA funding for projects were delayed.
The suspension affects new projects and payments to current ones that had yet to be made.
Air traffic controllers are considered essential and thus are not affected by the move. Local airport officials said that means flights would not be affected.
"As long as the air traffic controllers are in place, then no, we don't expect any impact," said Sharon Gordon, spokeswoman for the SJTA.
The airport is ready to start construction on the new fire station building - which will receive FAA funding - but they are awaiting clearance from the FAA to move forward, she said. If the stalemate over extending the funding is prolonged this project could be in jeopardy, she said.
The Delaware River and Bay Authority operates the municipal airports in Cape May and Millville.
DRBA spokesman Jim Salmon said the authority planned to apply for grants for the two airports but the applications are now frozen.
The DRBA seeks a $1.1 million for the Cape May airport to clear an obstruction and an environmental study to rehabilitate a runway. The authority also seeks a $450,000 grant for the Millville airport to clear an obstruction, he said.
Salmon said the suspension could be a mere "hiccup" in the process provided the situation is soon remedied.
"They're still on the radar screen," he said. "The viability and necessity of the projects are still there. It's just not something that can be remedied right now."
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