WASHINGTON – New federal rules that will make it easier for pilots to land at three small Maryland airports are a step in the right direction, but still not enough, the struggling businesses said.
Security measures imposed on Washington-area airports after 9-11 have been very tough on the so-called “Maryland Three” airports: College Park Airport, Potomac Airfield and Washington Executive/Hyde Field.
New rules released Thursday by the Transportation Security Administration will relax restrictions on pilots flying in to those fields.
“It’s going to help the airport remain viable, and that’s what we need,” said Stan Fetter, manager of Hyde Field.
But he said it is “obvious” that more needs to be done and that there are still too many restrictions, restrictions that Fetter calls “window dressing, in my opinion, 80 percent window dressing.”
Because of their proximity to Washington, the Maryland Three remained closed for months after 9-11, reopening in February 2002 under stringent Federal Aviation Administration restrictions on flights. Those restrictions largely limited traffic to planes based at those airports and, in rare instances, to “transients,” or planes based elsewhere.
The new rules, which officially take effect Sunday, transfer authority for the airports from the FAA to the TSA and relax the restrictions on transients.
The owner of Potomac Airfield said the rule change does little more than codify the previous policy, which did allow some transients in to the Maryland Three. David Wartofsky said transient pilots were being screened and cleared for landing at the Maryland airports before, as they will now.
Still, he said, word of the new rules could help correct a widely held misperception that transient pilots were barred from the three airports, and he welcomed the change for that reason.
“It’s a recognition of common sense. My compliments to the organizations for finally getting it straight,” Wartofsky said.
TSA spokeswoman Andrea McCauley confirmed that prior to the change some transient pilots were being cleared, but it was on a case-by-case basis. Now, the TSA has extended that access to all transient pilots who abide by security regulations.
Wartofsky agreed with Fetter that more needs to be done to help the Maryland airports, but declined to elaborate, saying he was still discussing matters with the TSA.
McCauley said no further rule changes are in the works for the three airports.
“We are very well aware of GA (general aviation) airports, and what their needs are,” McCauley said. But the TSA also needs to examine and mitigate the risks to the general public, she added.
“It’s striking a balance,” McCauley said.
Fetter, however, said there is nothing to discuss. Of the remaining restrictions, he said, “I don’t think you’re going to find anybody at these three airports who thinks this makes sense.”
The current transportation security system is utilizing the air-traffic control system to do things it was “never intended to do,” Fetter said. “It doesn’t accomplish what they want to accomplish.”
He said the security procedures governing small airports have “failed enough times that we know that it doesn’t work, and they need to try something else,” but he declined to elaborate on those failures.
“It’s child’s play” to come up with a more secure system that does not harm the business of small airports, Fetter said, and “if we weren’t playing with a political football,” those measures would already be in place.
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