Small-plane aviators are asking the state to take control of Tipton Army Airfield and open it to the public, while Anne Arundel officialsdecide whether they want to operate a general-aviation airport.
Since the Fort Meade Coordinating Council recommended two years ago that Tipton be converted to a county-owned airport, little progress hasbeen made, said former Howard County Executive Edward Cochran.
Cochran is one of about a dozen community and business leaders who have organized the Save Tipton Coalition to speed the airport's conversion to a public facility. The coalition's first organizational meeting Tuesday night at Meade High attracted about 200 pilots, aircraft owners and business people from Central Maryland.
Despite the recommendation of the coordinating council, which is a citizen advisoryboard, the county has approached the airport cautiously, partly because of tight fiscal times and partly because of its lack of expertisein airport operations, Cochran said.
Michael Leahy, an aide to County Executive Robert R. Neall, said the county is preparing to hire a consultant to determine whether the county could operate the airport without tax subsidies and to draft an operational blueprint that would limit the facility to 300 planes.
But, Cochran said, that study could take 18 months to two years. Pilots are growing frustrated because a general aviation airport "could open tomorrow without any major renovations," he said Tuesday night.
"The problem is, there is no one on (Neall's) staff who understands airports," Cochran said.
The solution? Have the State Aviation Administration, which already operates Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Martin State Airport, assume control of the airport until Anne Arundel County is ready, Cochran said. Coalition organizers circulated a petition Tuesday, asking Gov. William Donald Schaefer to intervene.
"It should bereleased immediately by the federal government and put into public hands so we can get it into operation," Cochran said. "Most of us don't care what public agency owns our airports . . . just that they are publicly owned."
George Oaks, chairman of the coalition and a Crofton attorney, said the coalition hopes to convey the positive effectsthe airport, which would serve only small, propeller-driven planes, could have on the community. The group estimates the airport would generate $5.5 million in revenue in the community and create 84 jobs.