Partners, pilots keep Clearview flying SOUTHWEST--Mount Airy* Woodbine * Taylorsville * Winfield

RUNNING AIRPORT IS LABOR OF LOVE

September 24, 1993|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Staff Writer

If you want to get rich, running a small, private airport isn't the way to do it. Just ask Lowell Seal.

"It's not a money-making business," said Mr. Seal, who, with partner Tom Chapman, owns Clearview Airport near the Morgan Run Natural Environment Area south of Westminster. "If you're trying to make a living doing this, you'll starve to death."

Despite the bleak financial forecast, Mr. Seal and Mr. Chapman bought Clearview Airport in April from Martha Farinholt, whose late husband, Oliver, built it 30 years ago.

"It's something I've always enjoyed," said Mr. Seal, 51, a licensed pilot. "I used to build model airplanes when I was young, and I've always liked airplanes."

Running an airport is nothing new for the two men; they've managed Clearview for the past 17 years.

After Mr. Farinholt's death in 1972, his wife operated the airport for four years. When it became too much for her to handle alone, some of the pilots who used Clearview set up a corporation to operate it. Mr. Seal and Mr. Chapman took the lead and have managed the airport since 1976.

Mrs. Farinholt sold the airport to the two men because she wanted the property to remain an airport and nobody in her family was interested in continuing the business, Mr. Seal said.

Since they bought Clearview, Mr. Seal and Mr. Chapman have expanded the pilot shop and gas pump hours from weekends only to six days a week. The airport is closed on Mondays.

The expanded hours became possible when Mr. Seal retired in March after 26 years as a quality analyst with General Motors.

Now, during the week, he can be found cutting the grass at the airfield or doing other maintenance work at Clearview.

Mr. Chapman, 55, works for a local defense contractor, but said he expects to spend most of his time at the airport when he retires in five years.

Mr. Seal and Mr. Chapman have no employees, although volunteers occasionally help out on the weekends.

Because Clearview is such a small operation, many of the pilots who use the airport have pooled their resources to improve the facility over the years. For example, a group of pilots got together in 1978 to buy instrument approach equipment that allows them to land in reduced visibility weather conditions.

Clearview is the only private airport in the state with an instrument approach system, Mr. Chapman said. The pilots also raised money to buy runway lights.

Generally, Clearview is used by recreational fliers. Each week, a group of local retired men get together and fly somewhere to lunch. Some of their destinations include Carlisle, Pa., Wilmington, Del., and "anywhere there's good food" within a 150-mile radius, Mr. Seal said.

Most of Clearview's pilots live in Carroll County. Some come from Howard and Montgomery counties.

Jon Buck, of the Maryland Aviation Administration's Office of Regional Aviation Assistance, said Clearview is typical of many small, privately owned airports throughout the state that are trying to stay alive.

"The little airports' big problem is, the owners may love aviation -- and flying but they don't understand that they have to run the airport as a business to survive," Mr. Buck said.

To help private airports, the state started a grant program in 1985. The airport owners and the state each pay half the cost of needed improvements.

It's only in the last three years that the program has gotten off the ground, Mr. Buck said, because it's a struggle for many small airports to raise their half of the money.

Clearview took advantage of the program to repave its 1,845-foot runway last year. The project cost $36,000, Mr. Buck said.

He said Clearview may have an edge on other airports because of its pilot shop, which sells airplane parts.

In this area, the closest shop that caters to small-aircraft owners is in York, Pa.

The Clearview shop draws customers from as far as 100 miles away, Mr. Seal said.

Clearview also generates revenue from gasoline sales and from the $30 monthly fee pilots pay to "tie down" their planes at the airport.

Mr. Buck said it's important for small airports like Clearview to be given a chance to survive.

"It'd be a shame to lose that grass-roots aviation," he said. "That's where most of today's commercial pilots learned to fly."

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