Larry Kelley would rather be teaching students how to fly instead of watching old Clint Eastwood movies.
Lee Schiek has painted, scraped, polished and oiled just about every piece of equipment at his small, community airport.
And James Davidson spends his days “begging” creditors to give him some more time to repay before they foreclose.
For these Prince George’s County airport managers and flight instructors, the federal ban on private planes flying within 15 miles of the Washington Monument is killing business.
Their airports Washington Executive/Hyde Field in Clinton, Potomac Airfield in Friendly, and College Park are the only ones in the country still closed in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
“It’s rotten,” Mr. Kelley, 71, says of the general aviation ban.
A retired serviceman, he bought the Beacon Flying Service, which operates out of Hyde Field, in 1994.
“I don’t know what will happen if I lose this school,” Mr. Kelley says. “I don’t have to work, but I like to work. But if you sit idle, you die.”
Mr. Kelley says he had planned to close the flight school, which has operated out of Hyde Field since 1935, on New Year’s Day but couldn’t go through with it. He says the business might remain open until next month, but his reserve funds are dwindling quickly.
William Shumann, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, says it is unlikely the airports will reopen soon. The FAA and the Transportation Department are devising guidelines on small-airport operations, he says, declining to divulge specifics.
“I can’t get into a guessing game,” Mr. Shumann says. “There are degrees of getting open. Will these airports be open to the degree they were before September 11? It’s not improbable but unlikely.”
“We need to have some reassurances that we are going to reopen,” says Mr. Schiek, manager of College Park Airport, the oldest continually operational airport in the world.
Last month, the FAA reduced the no-fly zone area for private planes around Washington. It allowed the reopening of three suburban Maryland airports that had been closed since September 11 Freeway Airport in Bowie, Maryland Airport in Indian Head and Suburban Airport in Laurel.
The FAA had shut down all airports immediately after the September 11 attacks. The country’s major commercial airports were reopened after 24 hours, except Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, which reopened in October.
The FAA has cited the community airports’ proximity to Washington as a security concern, noting that some of the terrorists received flight instruction at local airfields.
David Wartofsky, owner of the Potomac Field Airport, says the threat from his facility is minimal, considering its nearness to Andrews Air Force Base. “If you wanted to steal a jet, you would not steal it off of Andrews. You would take it from some commercial airport in Arkansas where no one is paying attention,” he says.
Airport managers complain they are getting little or no information from the federal government and little attention from local lawmakers.
Hyde Field manager Steve Provoncha says he has tried to contact several politicians for help since Sept. 12. The first he heard from anyone was Dec. 20, when a staffer for U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer called to congratulate him on his airport’s reopening.
When Mr. Provoncha told him the airport was still closed, the staffer said the airport manager should check his information.
“I told him to check his,” Mr. Provoncha says. “We still had planes on the ground and are not open.”
Hoyer spokeswoman Stacey Farnen says the Maryland Democrat’s office relies on information it receives from government agencies. “This was a case of us trying to get the information out to the airports, but the information we had received from the agency was inaccurate,” she says.
Still, Mr. Provoncha says he was annoyed Mr. Hoyer’s staff tried to contact him only after they thought his airport had reopened.
Mr. Davidson, owner of the ATC Flight Training Center at Potomac Airfield, says the bottom line is money.
“I’m in a Catch-22 situation,” he says. “I need about $10,000 to shut the creditors up for 90 days and wait for the airports to reopen.”
The flight instructor says he has lost about $150,000 since the attacks and now is making about $40 a week as part of an administrative fee for a written pilot’s test he is allowed to offer.
Regional airports received scrutiny last weekend, when a 15-year-old high school freshman in Tampa, Fla., deliberately crashed a small plane into an office building, killing himself.
“You can’t control screwballs,” said Mr. Davidson. “It proved that these planes can’t do serious damage. If it had hit the side of the building instead of the window, it would have just slid down the side.”