ANNAPOLIS – Restrictions placed on small airports in Maryland since Sept. 11 could be relaxed for some of them by Friday, giving their owners hope of surviving, according to airline associations.
The Federal Aviation Administration is considering reducing the 25- nautical mile no-fly zone around Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to an 18-nautical mile zone (about 20 miles), said William Shumann, FAA spokesman.
The restrictions were imposed after terrorists hijacked airliners and crashed them into the Pentagon and World Trade Centers Sept. 11.
Monday, President George W. Bush announced that Reagan National Airport will reopen Thursday.
No official decision about reducing the no-fly zone has been made yet, Shumann said.
The reduced no-fly zone will allow four of the 10 public-use airports in Maryland affected by the zone to resume most operations.
“For the airports that are outside that area, it will basically reopen them,” said Keith Mordoff, spokesman for the Frederick-based Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. “It will put them back in business.”
Airport owners had been losing more than $5,000 a day since the closings.
Tipton Airport in Odenton, Lee Airport in Annapolis, Davis Airport in Laytonsville and Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg will be able to resume most operations.
Montgomery County Airpark, the third busiest airport in Maryland, laid off 65 of its 81 employees in the weeks since the closing was ordered. The airpark expected to have to close by mid-October if restrictions remained. If the no-fly zone is reduced, layoffs and worries about shutting doors permanently would subside, said Wendy Carter, Montgomery County Airpark manager. The airpark also could take planes relocated from other airports, she said. The Maryland airports within the smaller no-fly zone could be allowed to move airplanes to operating airports starting Friday, according to the FAA. That would give closed airports a small revenue stream.
The relocation would help, but wouldn’t be enough to keep airports in business, owners said.
To compensate, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is working with congressional staff to win legislation providing loans to public-use airports that lost money because of the restrictions. General aviation airports lost more than $250 million since Sept. 11, association officials said. The $15 billion aid package passed by Congress last week did not apply to the general aviation industry. Airport owners feel like they have been left in the dark throughout the whole process, they said. “General Aviation is such a small lobbying voice,” said Stanley Rodenhauser, owner of Freeway Aviation in Bowie. “We’re not on anyone’s radar screen.” And if they close, they may never reopen. Urban sprawl in counties such as Prince George’s has pushed development up to the airstrips. If owners are forced to sell their properties, they may become a suburbs. “It is playing directly into the hands of the developers,” said Bruce Mundie, associate executive director of the Maryland Aviation Administration. Rodenhauser, whose airport falls within the no-fly zone, said he doesn’t even want to think about closing the airport that has been a part of the region for a half a century. About half of his 25 full-time employees were laid off, he said. And with this being his peak season, he’s losing about $7,500 a day. The airport also provides mechanical services, but without flight instruction and the other flying services, he said it can’t survive. “I’m going to hold out until I’m the last one here,” he said. “We’ve been here 55 years. It’s my life. It’s my home. We plan to be in business.” -30- CNS-10-2-01