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Nation's Last Shuttered Airport Cleared to Reopen

By David M. Pittman
Capital News Service
Friday, Sept. 27, 2002

WASHINGTON - Federal officials have cleared the way for the reopening of Hyde Field, a Prince George's County private airfield that was the only one in the nation still closed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Transportation Safety Administration had cleared Washington Executive Airpark/Hyde Field to operate earlier this year, but shut it down again in May for undisclosed security violations.

The administration on Thursday gave field operators the go-ahead to resume flights, and airport manager Stan Fetter said he expected the first flights on Saturday morning.

Fetter said the airpark has had a tough time getting to this point. Many of the flight schools and fueling and maintenance operations that were based at the airfield either left or closed in the past five months.

"You've either had to relocate or sit and wait," Fetter said.

He credited intense lobbying by Reps. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, and Albert Wynn, D-Largo, with pushing the safety administration to allow flights at Hyde Field again.

"The closure of Hyde Field for nearly five months created a hardship not just for the recreational pilots who used the airport, but for those who owned and worked in small businesses on the airfield," Wynn said in a prepared statement.

TSA officials were reluctant Friday to discuss the violations that shuttered Hyde Field in May and the new security measures that had to be taken to re-open it. They would only say that a perimeter fence had been erected around the airport and that Prince George's County Police would have a more visible role.

"There are obvious things we are doing to improve security there," said TSA  spokeswoman Chris Rhatigan.

Before it was ordered closed last September -- with all other airports in the country -- Hyde Field averaged about 50 takeoffs and 50 landings a day, according to the Maryland Aviation Administration. But Bruce Mundie, the agency's director of regional aviation assistance, estimates that the airport will have only about 10 percent of that business.

That would be in line with business decreases at College Park Airport and Potomac Airfield, Mundie said. The three Prince George's County airports were closed for months because of their proximity to Washington, and only allowed to reopen under severe flight restrictions.

The College Park and Potomac fields have been open since January. Hyde Field reopened in March before being shut down again in May.

Mundie said that the downturn in business at the airports is due to temporary flight restrictions put in place by the federal government. Pilots must be based at those airports to fly in and out and they must be approved by the FBI and other government authorities. They must also file plans before any flight.

But Mundie said the "temporary flight restrictions" are not expected to end soon.

"Frankly, I have no idea when they are going to lift them," he said.

Copyright 2002 University of Maryland College of Journalism

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