Happy Landings

March 13, 1995

When Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic in the Spirit of St. Louis in 1927, the whole nation caught flying fever. Farmers set aside tracts of land to cultivate community airfields, which soon became the stage for barnstormers and flying daredevils.

These days, however, the buzz of the propeller is more apt to cause annoyance than excitement.

As Sun reporter Shirley Leung wrote recently, community airfields are vanishing, victims of encroaching residential and commercial development, higher land prices and homeowners who complain about the noise and possible danger. On the average, one community airport closes in the country each week; Maryland stands to lose five during the coming decade.

These statistics make the rescue of the Tipton Army Airfield at Fort George G. Meade all the more significant. Anne Arundel and Howard counties will assume control of the airfield from the Department of Defense on Oct. 1 and turn Tipton into a community airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration hopes the conversion of Tipton Airfield to public use will give privately owned planes an alternative to busy Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Consultants say Tipton could become one of the busiest general aviation airports in Maryland with 107,000 take-offs and landings annually by 2000.

Although residents may complain about noise and developers may envy the large tracts of undeveloped land, small community airfields such as Tipton remain essential to the nation's air transportation system.

These small landing strips are used by medical emergency helicopters, hospitals ferrying organs for transplants, businessmen, commuters and hobbyists. These airfields may lack the modern conveniences of long, smooth runways, luggage carousels and ticket counters, but for every flight out of a commercial airport, four take off from community airports.

Converting Tipton to a public airfield makes good sense. Howard -- the only county in the state without a small airport -- and Anne Arundel -- which has two small airports besides BWI -- will share the cost of operations. That will be about $149,000 if the airport receives grants of $226,100 from federal and state aviation administrations. In return, the airport is expected to bring in $25 million in revenue, create 546 jobs -- and save an endangered resource.

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