Pact clears way for Tipton Airfield to operate soon as civilian airport

April 26, 1995|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Sun Staff Writer

Civilian aircraft could be flying in and out of the Army's Tipton Airfield as early as Oct. 1 under a pact signed yesterday by Anne Arundel and Howard counties.

During a meeting in Annapolis, the executives from the two counties formally agreed to lease and operate the 366-acre airfield at Fort Meade.

Officials said they expect to hire an airport manager and a vendor to provide necessary services, including fuel, this summer.

The airfield, less than 10 miles from Baltimore-Washington International Airport, should be open by Oct. 1, said Sam Minnette, an Anne Arundel County project manager. It could be home for up to 300 privately owned planes and helicopters within five years, he said.

Howard County has been trying to get a civilian airport since 1991 because the Hayes Field airport in western Howard is at capacity. When Anne Arundel began looking at converting Tipton to civilian use in 1992, the two counties tentatively agreed to work together.

Officials from both counties said they were pleased about the signing of the joint operating agreement.

"We have a number of Howard County pilots circling around right now waiting for a place to land," said Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

"It's something the public wants," said Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary. "Every place I go and speak, I run into someone who's got an airplane and wants to know when this will be open."

A key element in keeping the project moving forward was a lengthy economic analysis commissioned by Robert R. Neall when he was Anne Arundel county executive. Mr. Neall was willing to take over the airport as long as there was no cost to county taxpayers.

Yesterday, the county's consultant, LPA Group Inc., concluded that the airport would not be a drain on taxpayers. Paul S. Puckli, a principal associate with the Valley Forge, Pa., company, said the airport would be self-supporting with minimal investment from the two counties.

A new airport of similar size would cost $3 million to $5 million, Mr. Puckli said. Tipton was scheduled for closing as an Army airfield several years ago as a federal cost-saving measure.

"The counties are really getting an airport where they can just turn the key and open up for business," Mr. Puckli said.

The airport is expected to be $31,866 in the red during its first eight months, but Mr. Puckli said it will start generating a profit through hangar rentals and other fees in its second and third years. By 2000, it will be generating more than $1 million a year in net income, he said.

The counties are expected to assume ownership of the airport in 1997, after the Army has cleaned up numerous environmental hazards.

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