ANNAPOLIS – Local police agencies have rescued the world’s oldest operating airport from obscurity.
Maryland State Police, Prince George’s County Police and various military organizations have been landing their planes and helicopters at the College Park Airport, keeping its title alive, since private operations were banned in the wake of terrorist attacks, said Lee Schiek, College Park Airport general manager.
The airport’s role in aviation history has been threatened since the federal government imposed an 18-nautical mile no-fly zone over Washington, D.C., after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.
Police and military organizations are among only a few agencies authorized to fly in the zone.
“We still have daily traffic,” Schiek said. “The airport is being used in the official sense.”
Maryland State Police have landed at the College Park Airport, Cpl. Rob Moroney, a police spokesman, confirmed, however he would not say how often or when they land for security reasons.
Prince George’s County Police landed at the airport “several times” since Sept. 11, said Cpl. Joe Merkel, a police spokesman, who also declined to be specific about police air operations.
The airport’s historical title may be saved, but it will all be for nothing if the place goes out of business.
The airport has been losing about $15,000 a day because of the no-fly zone, Schiek said. The Federal Aviation Administration is supposed to announce when restrictions will be reduced, he said, but he hasn’t heard much.
“Operationally, nothing has changed since Sept. 11,” Schiek said. “We’re just eagerly waiting, day-by-day to resume operations.”
The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission owns the airport and has reassured them that they won’t have to close, Schiek said.
“We have been given a briefing and they have pledged to maintain the airport until we can resume operations,” he said.
Six general aviation airports in Maryland remain under the no-fly zone. All except the College Park Airport are privately owned and are at risk of having to sell their property.
Four Maryland Congress members wrote a letter Thursday to the Office of Management and Budget director calling for the federal government to address the issue. “All of these airports have been closed for national security reasons and we appreciate and understand the administration’s decision,” said the letter, signed by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Baltimore; Rep. Al Wynn, D-Largo; Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Baltimore, and Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville. “However, we firmly believe that it is incumbent on the federal government to immediately provide relief equal to their financial losses.” -30- CNS-11-9-01