|World's Oldest Operating
Capital News Service
Friday, Oct. 12, 2001
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The world's oldest operating airport has lasted for
almost a century, but now it's uncertain whether it will make it through the
"Since this is the oldest airport in the world, I find it ironic
that this has survived two world wars, a depression, recession," said
Lee Schiek, manager of College Park Airport. "Now we are at the risk of
ceasing to exist because of action by the federal government."
Businesses and pilots have been fleeing the airport since the Federal
Aviation Administration established a no-fly zone around Reagan National
Airport after hijacked airliners slammed into the World Trade Center and
Pentagon Sept. 11.
"If it goes on much longer, it will affect our
history," said Cathy Allen, director of the College Park Aviation
Museum, on the airport grounds.
The Wright Brothers established
the College Park Airport in 1909 when they taught Army officers to fly. The
airport has been in operation since then, making it the world's oldest
continuously operating airport, Allen said. Only at one other time have private
planes been banned from taking off from the airport -- during World War II, when
only military aircraft were allowed to use the airfield, she said.
airport has lost more than $15,000 a day since Sept. 11 from fuel sales,
housing fees, mechanical operations and other services, airport officials
said. Attendance at the Aviation Museum has been down 80 percent since Sept.
11, and business at the nearby 94th Aero Squadron Restaurant declined slightly,
partly because of the airport closing.
Public schools have canceled field
trips to the museum because some districts have barred students from
traveling outside the county, Allen said. However, parents with a group of
homeschoolers visited recently, she said. "They didn't want the
children's lasting image of planes to be one slamming into a building,"
The belief was the opposite of what most other people are doing,
she said. "I don't know if people right now are really wanting to go
see airplanes," Allen said.
The museum's purpose is to encourage people
to "come and see the magic of flight," but that becomes difficult
with the airport closed, Allen said. "Everyone takes their kids to see
planes take off," she said. "Having no planes take off or land has
hurt. It's been sad, really."
About two-thirds of the 90 planes parked
at the airstrip departed between Oct. 6 and 9, under a FAA program that
allowed pilots trapped in the 18 nautical mile no-fly zone to relocate. The
dwindling group of seven or so pilots at the airport who were waiting to
relocate their aircraft Oct. 9 traded stories and reminisced about the last
time they could fly freely.
They were excited to be flying after the
monthlong grounding, but leaving the airport where most of them house their
planes weighs on them.
"At least I'll be able to fly this
weekend," said Paul Windsor, a part- time flight instructor at Freeway
Airport in Bowie. "I have three students who are ready to get their
Freeway is also under the no-fly zone, so Windsor took his
plane to Tipton Airport in Odenton.
A mechanic shop close to the airport
also would not have survived if it stayed in College Park, its manager said.
Employees at College Park AeroServices are transferring half of their
supplies to Easton/Newman Airfield on the Eastern Shore, out of the reach of
the no-fly zone. Without the transfer, said Randy Cox, College Park
AeroServices general manager, the company would be out of business.
"We're going to continue to do work until there's no work to do,"
he said. "We should be OK, but it's going to be real tight."
Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission owns the College Park
Airport and the museum, so officials are hoping a deal will be struck with
the federal government before they have to close or begin layoffs. So far,
no aid packages have been developed, said Craig Kellstrom, a commission
Airline organizations met with the federal government to push to
repeal the no-fly zone, but first, they are focusing on lifting other
restrictions placed around major cities. "I went to that meeting
thinking [we could fly in] weeks," said Schiek, the airport manager.
"I came back thinking months."
Copyright © 2001 University of Maryland College of
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