Flying club sues to stay at Tipton Counties' takeover lifts Army rule, group says

October 01, 1995|By Shirley Leung | Shirley Leung,SUN STAFF

The oldest flying club in the Army has sued the Army to be allowed to stay at Fort Meade's Tipton Airfield after Anne Arundel and Howard counties take over the airport.

The Fort Meade Flying Activity filed the class action suit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, arguing that after the property leaves Army control the military no longer will have authority to bar the club from the field.

Operating at the Odenton base since 1956, the club sued on behalf of its 260 members and the 160 members of the Naval Air Systems Command Flying Club, which also operates at Fort Meade.

The 366-acre airfield shuts down today as part of a federal base-closure law to cut defense spending and will remain closed for at least six months for an environmental cleanup. It will reopen as a civilian airport operated and eventually owned by Anne Arundel and Howard counties.

Army lawyers have ruled that the flying clubs are military activities and that under the base-closure law, no military activities may remain on property that has been divested, Army spokesman Capt. Joseph Piek said Friday.

Flying club members contend in their suit that the clubs are not a military activity and do not receive military funding. The clubs are self-sustaining, generating money from membership dues and airplane rentals, the suit says.

Last year, the clubs made a $38,000 profit and donated it all to community programs at Fort Meade, according to the suit.

Through the years, they have invested more than $100,000 for improvements at Tipton.

If the court rules against the clubs, members are asking that the federal government reimburse members for improvements made, the cost of relocating to another airport and legal fees.

John Ferrone, the Fort Meade Flying Activity president, said the Army attorneys are too rigid in their interpretation of the base closure law.

Sam Minnitte, Tipton project manager for Anne Arundel County, has said both counties want the flying clubs to stay at the airfield because they would help generate business.

The clubs teach flying to military personnel, their dependents and federal employees who otherwise could not afford flying lessons.

During the cleanup of Tipton, the club has moved its 18 small planes to Lee Airport in Edgewater.

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