WASHINGTON – The three Maryland airports closed since September’s terrorist attacks are scheduled to reopen as soon as next week under new security rules finalized Wednesday by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Potomac Airfield in Fort Washington, Washington Executive/Hyde Field in Clinton and College Park Airport are the only general aviation fields in the country still closed because they are within 15 miles of the District of Columbia’s restricted airspace. All three are in Prince George’s County.
The new federal security procedures require aircraft owners or operators to undergo a security evaluation, including fingerprinting and background checks by federal agencies, and receive a formal briefing in the new procedures.
Each airport will allow only those pilots and planes based at their facility prior to Sept. 11 to use the airport.
The airports’ managers were relieved. They’ve waited for months for the FAA, Secret Service and newly formed Transportation Security Agency to finalize security plans.
“Obviously, it’s been a long haul,” said Lee Schiek, manager of College Park Airport. “It was worth the wait. We just wish we could have done this sooner.”
The FAA said flights could resume as early as Feb. 22, Schiek said.
College Park Airport was opened in 1909 and is the oldest continuously operating airport in the world, though it has barely maintained operations over the last five months.
Before Sept. 11, Schiek said, 90 aircraft were based at the airport. That number dropped to 22, but Schiek said he expects many of those pilots to return once the airport reopens.
“We’re expecting about a 20 to 25 percent attrition rate,” he said, adding that the airport has been losing around $20,000 to $25,000 per month while closed.
“(These airports) have shouldered a disproportionate share of the burden to secure our nation’s capital,” said U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D- Mechanicsville. “However . . . the federal government still owes these airports, and several other local airports and small businesses, compensation for the revenue they lost in the days following Sept. 11.”
Hoyer has lobbied the Office of Management and Budget for funds from the $20 billion Congress allocated to President Bush for aid to New York to compensate the small airports for their revenue losses, said Stacey Farnen, Hoyer’s press secretary.
The congressman has asked the Maryland Aviation Administration to visit the airports to assess financial losses so he can give OMB a specific figure.
Potomac Airfield has about 60 aircraft on site, but airport manager David Wartofsky said the new regulations should bring back the total 120 planes based at his airport before Sept. 11.
Wartofsky said he has not bothered to calculate his financial losses.
“That’s not part of the solution,” he said. “My focus has been on things that are part of the solution.”
Security sessions for pilots will be held at Potomac Airfield some time next week, he said.
The federal rules contain three new major requirements for pilots based at the airports – they must submit their pilot’s license for background checks by the FAA (and criminal background checks by the FBI), be fingerprinted by the Secret Service and attend a mandatory briefing on new security and operating procedures.
Pilots also will have to use a confidential identification code every time they file a required flight plan.
Potomac Airfield and Washington Executive/Hyde will continue to operate flight schools, but those procedures have also been restricted under the new measures. Most notably, student pilots will have to pass the same background checks before they are allowed to fly solo.
College Park Airport has not operated a flight school in more than three decades, Schiek said.
The federal government and airport management will evaluate the security measures over a 60-day period to determine whether the airports can ultimately return to normal operations, which includes opening the facility to transient pilots again, Schiek said.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which has been working with the FAA and federal security agencies on reopening the airport, said they were relieved to see the regulations finalized.
“We would have been much happier if we could have accomplished this much earlier,” said association spokesman Warren Morningstar. “But this is a positive step forward . . . to building confidence that the airports will be able to resume normal operations.”