Technology takes off at local airport

March 05, 1995|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Sun Staff Writer

A new radio-telephone hookup being tested at Carroll County Regional Airport will make it easier for pilots to communicate with the control tower at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The technology will make it more convenient for pilots to receive permission to depart from the airport and make the process safer, said John Lucas, manager of the Carroll airport.

"We want to provide a safer environment for pilots," he said.

The system is one of many improvements planned at the general aviation airport on Route 97 north of Westminster. The county is in the middle of a $17 million expansion aimed at attracting more corporate and recreational fliers.

Several pilots who fly single-engine planes from the Carroll airport said Friday that the addition of the radio system -- called a ground communications outlet -- would be helpful.

"It's another link making this airport part of the system," said former Carroll Sheriff Grover N. "Sam" Sensabaugh of Westminster, who often flies a private plane from the airport. "The benefit of that for this airport is more people will tend to use this airport."

The system will be most helpful in inclement weather and at night, Mr. Lucas said. Previously, a pilot without a cellular phone had to run to the airport office or an outside pay phone to call BWI for permission to take off.

BWI would give the pilot about 15 minutes to take off. If the plane did not start or something else went wrong and the pilot could not depart within 15 minutes, he would have to call BWI and obtain clearance again, Mr. Lucas said.

County officials and representatives of the Annapolis company that developed the system demonstrated it Friday. Commissioner Richard T. Yates and Zoning Administrator Solveig Smith accompanied Westair Inc. pilot Richard W. Wendtland into a four-seater Piper Cherokee.

Westair is the company that operates the airport and provides services, including fuel, maintenance and flight training. The county owns the airport.

To use the new system, Mr. Wendtland selected the proper VHF radio frequency, moved the proper switches and listened as the radio signal triggered a phone call to the BWI control tower.

All was clear, and the plane took off for a short flight over New Windsor, Marston and Medford.

The communications system uses an antenna mounted on the roof of the Westair building and is designed to be used only from the ground.

ARINC Inc., a communications company with offices nationwide, developed the technology 10 years ago for use by commercial air carriers, said William F. Trussell, program director for airports at ARINC.

Many states needed an economical way for pilots to communicate with control towers, he said. The company developed the system last fall.

Mr. Lucas said a pilot on the Carroll County Citizens Airport Advisory Committee told him pilots needed a better way to contact BWI. In January, Mr. Lucas talked to the Maryland Aviation Administration, which knew about ARINC's development.

Carroll County has agreed to test the radio system for two months, until the end of April.

After the test, he said, he will listen to pilot evaluations. County officials then will decide whether to buy the system, which would cost about $10,000, Mr. Lucas said.

Bruce F. Mundie, director of the Office of Regional Aviation Assistance at the state aviation agency, said he was enthusiastic about the new technology.

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