Federal budget cuts could affect Treasure Coast airfields, Stuart Air Show, federally funded schools

VERO BEACH, Fla. — Upcoming air shows in Vero Beach and Stuart could take a major hit from upcoming federal budget cuts that could stop military aircraft from going to such events.

Vero Beach Municipal Airport Director Eric Menger wonders if the planned October show at his show would have enough of a draw without the presence of the military aircraft.

"That would be a big hit for the air show," said Menger.

Military acts are also a big feature of the Stuart Air Show scheduled for November.

The threat to the air shows is just one of the impacts that could be seen along the Treasure Coast from the political impasse in Washington.

Federally funded school programs and air traffic control towers at both the St. Lucie County International Airport and Witham Field in Martin County could be affected.

Local school districts could see about a 5 percent cut in funding for federal programs designed to aid disadvantaged students and those with disabilities as well those learning English. Also money for teacher improvements and vocational training could be cut as a result of $85 billion in automatic spending cuts.

The cuts, however, would not take effect in the current budget year, which ends June 30. The cuts would also not impact the federal funds used to provide breakfast and lunch to qualified students.

Both the St. Lucie County International Airport in Fort Pierce and Witham Field in Stuart are among the list of more than airports where the Federal Aviation Administration says air traffic control towers could be closed.

Closures of the air traffic control towers would not mean the closure of the airports, but would make pilots more reliant on direct communications between each other when landing at the fields.

St. Lucie County International Airport Manager John Wiatnak said it is his understanding that any closures would not happen until at least April. He also thinks that the St. Lucie airport may have enough take-offs and landings to survive what could be an initial closing of about 100 air traffic control towers.

Martin County Administrator Taryn Kryzda said that it is still too early to know who will be affected. She said that critieria other than number of operations could be used in determining where air traffic control towers are closed. For instance, she said, the FAA may not want to shut down the towers at all three airports located close together - like ones in Fort Pierce, Stuart, and north Palm Beach.

Menger thinks the FAA will look at reducing other areas before shutting down the towers. He said a couple of years ago when furloughs were done administrative positions, such as those involved in writing grants were impacted rather than those involved in air safety. If the towers are impacted, he said, they may only be closed down for part of the day and not totally shut.

Menger said that elimination of some of the military visits to the air shows might be a more likely area.

"I could see if they had to look for places to cut I would think that would be logical places to reduce expenditures," he said.

 

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