- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 16, 2001

College Park Airport may not be the world's oldest continuously operated airport any longer, but officials said yesterday that reports of its demise are greatly exaggerated they do expect it to reopen.
"We are working closely with the FAA, and we do not have any plans to close, but we do not know when we will reopen," said Andrea Davey, spokeswoman for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which owns and operates the airport.
Despite broadcast reports that the airport would close permanently, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman William Shumann said the agency intends to "restore flying to what it was before September 11" when hijackers crashed airliners into the Pentagon and New York's World Trade Center twin towers.
Since the attacks, airports within 18 nautical miles of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York have been required to operate under instrument, rather than visual, flight rules.
That "temporary restriction" is a de facto flight ban for airports without air-traffic control towers, such as College Park.
Within that airspace, it also has grounded most private pilots, only about a fifth of whom have instrument ratings.
The shutdown lifted just long enough eight days ago to allow planes, including 55 of the 80 planes based at College Park to leave for other airports has been a hardship for those who count on the nearby runways.
"The reason they located this runway here in 1909 was its proximity to Washington," said Cathy Allen, director of the adjacent College Park Aviation Museum. "Who knew it would hurt us one day?"
Even if College Park Airport loses its "oldest continuously operated" title, it will always be the site where, in 1909, Orville Wright first trained U.S. military officers to fly his machines.
It is also the site of the first Army Aviation School in 1911, first U.S. air mail in 1918 and the first controlled helicopter flight in 1924.
Although College Park Airport lost $30,000 in revenues and paid $15,000 in salaries during the month planes have been grounded, both the airport and the museum can fall back on the budget of the park and planning agency that owns them to cushion the blow.
And visits to the museum are picking up again after being down about 60 percent for the month and stopping altogether in the week after the attacks.
"We all feel confident we are going to open," Miss Allen said.
That includes employees of the largest business at the airport, College Park Aero Services, which maintains and repairs airplanes and airplane radios.
To keep going, the company has leased repair space at Easton Airport on the Eastern Shore. And high demand for the company's radio-repair service, which is mobile, helps the bottom line, office manager Lynn Richardson said. "We're going to hang on, because it's a good location even if there are some added restrictions," she said.
Although privately owned Freeway Airport on Route 50 in Mitchellville has no public subsidies to lean on, workers are also encouraged.
Freeway's flight-desk manager Bruce Coury said airport officials are slated to meet with the FAA again tomorrow. "Certainly, what we are hearing is that we will be opening soon what they mean by 'soon,' we don't know," he said.
While they wait, the flight school has moved five of its 15 planes to Bay Bridge Airport in Stevensville and Lee Airport in Annapolis.
National attention came to the flight school at Freeway after its instructors reported turning down a solo flight request by one of the hijackers because they determined his skills were too poor to be trusted.

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