- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2002

One month after the federal government lifted its ban on flights from three airports that remained closed as a result of September 11, airport officials fear they will be forced to close if the strict rules for flying are not lifted soon.
"If we are to continue under these current regulations, I am convinced that the health of this airport would not allow it to continue to exist," said Lee Schiek, airport manager at College Park Airport in College Park.
"It's so-so right now," said Larry Kelly, owner of Beacon Flying School based at Washington Executive/Hyde Park in Clinton. "There is not much flying going on because people are afraid of the system."
College Park Airport, Hyde Field and Potomac Airfield in Friendly were the last three regional airports in the country to reopen after the events of September 11 caused the Federal Aviation Administration to shut down all airports. Gradually airports across the country were allowed to reopen, but these three regional airports were grounded until Feb. 23.
Under strict regulations, pilots at these three airports all within 15 miles of the Washington Monument must follow guidelines that are not in place anywhere else.
After completing normal pre-flight procedures for all aircraft to ensure that the plane is mechanically sound, a pilot must call a special number affiliated with the FAA to provide information on the flight's destination, flying time, purpose of the flight, names of passengers and plane identification numbers.
The call takes about three minutes.
Once the required call is made, the pilot must wait about 10 minutes before calling another number for clearance to fly.
"Its a hurry-up-and-wait game," said Thor Erekson, a flight instructor at Potomac Airfield.
Once given approval, pilots must race out to the airstrip and prepare for takeoff because their window of time is limited, and any incoming planes could put their schedule off track.
"These are procedures that are in place to enhance security close to many of the government buildings in Washington, D.C.," said William Shumann, FAA spokesman. "The FAA doesn't unilaterally institute these procedures," he said, adding that the Office of Homeland Security and the Secret Service also are consulted.
Pilots and flight students also have regulations about where they can fly. Only pilots registered at one of these specific airports can fly in and out of that given airport.
In other words, a pilot who is registered at Potomac Airfield cannot fly in or out of Hyde Field, and private pilots who may want to travel to the region using their own planes may not stop at these airports. Instructors and students are not allowed to practice takeoffs and landings at these airports.
"We're losing students because of this policy [and] all the procedures they have to go through," said Herbert H. Jones, owner of Metropolitan Aviation flight training school at Hyde Field. "It costs them more money to fly here because they can't just practice their landings and takeoffs, so they go elsewhere."
The regulations are not the only obstacles faced by regional airport employees. Because they were closed for five months and were not earning money, their credit went south, they said. Several estimate they each lost well over $100,000.
James Davidson, owner of ATC Flying School at Potomac Airfield, has kept in constant communication with his creditors. Most have been understanding, he said, but some have been less accommodating.
Mr. Davidson's Bank of America credit card was terminated by the company because of his poor credit rating, despite the fact he was current on his Bank of America payment.
He contacted the bank several times to ask why, both by letter and phone. He received form letters in response saying there was nothing that could be done.
When contacted by a reporter the company said it was unable to comment on the private matters of Mr. Davidson's credit. Three hours later, however, Mr. Davidson received a call from a Bank of America representative saying his credit had been restored.
When the FAA instituted its regulations for these airports, it said it would revisit the situation in 60 days to see what changes, if any, needed to be made. Employees at these facilities are hopeful the government will make regulations less restrictive and are implementing changes to deal with what they hope will be more people.
Mr. Davidson has purchased a brand new Cessna 172 SP plane for his students to use. The plane, which still has the "new car" smell, offers a smooth ride and seats three comfortably.
"I am hopeful that on the first 70 degree Saturday all my students will be out," he said. "Things have been painfully slow, and painful is the key word, but I think they are improving and will continue to improve."
Mr. Jones of Metropolitan Aviation said he and others have started posting fliers in areas where they were not placed before, including Bolling Air Force Base, Andrews Air Force Base, the University of the District of Columbia and Howard University.
"Things have gotten a little better, but they are not at the point where we can operate in the black," Mr. Jones said.
"The idea behind making these fliers is just to make people more aware and that they can do these things."

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