Precision landing system asked for regional airport

Goal is to attract corporate clientele

April 19, 1999|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

To become even more attractive as a home base for corporate airplanes, county officials say, the Carroll County Regional Airport needs a precision landing system, so that planes can take off and land in almost any weather.

The county needs the system as soon as possible, though the Federal Aviation Administration has told officials it won't be before 2008.

The landing system would be consistent with other improvements at the airport -- a longer runway and larger hangars scheduled to be finished this summer -- intended to draw corporate customers and make the airport the centerpiece of the county's economic development effort.

The airport has corporate users, but would like to increase their number and make them regulars. A precision landing system would help airplanes land more safely in inclement weather and increase airport accessibility.

"Ultimately, what we would like to do is convince people to base these aircraft in our airport. We've got the good runway. We've got the jet fuel," said Gary Horst, director of the county's Department of Enterprise and Recreational Services.

The new hangars, which will be able to accommodate 28 aircraft, and the airport's proximity to Baltimore and Washington put it in a better position for corporate customers than some regional airports, he said.

But "corporate planes will want to, on occasion, come into the airport when the weather isn't that good. The corporate traveler is under time pressure . and wants flexibility," Horst said.

Horst and airport manager Steve Brown enlisted Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's help last week during her visit to the county, explaining the need and the federal agency's uncertain timetable.

Mikulski said she was "sympathetic to both the marketing and safety aspects" of the project.

"I will see what I can do to help you," she said.

At her request, county officials will meet with representatives of the Maryland Aviation Administration to discuss Carroll's needs and request the system. Mikulski said her office would then get a copy of the request.

Without a precision landing system, the airport would be closed to corporate traffic about 50 days a year, due to low cloud ceilings and other poor conditions, Brown said.

Although Brown has been in touch with FAA officials about a landing system, "we're feeling more and more that it's not imminent," he said. In addition to the timing, the FAA and local officials differ on what kind of a system to install.

Federal officials are talking about installing a global-positioning system, which depends on satellite signals to tell planes where they are and help them get where they are going. Because the satellites are in place and there is relatively little ground equipment required, these systems cost about $75,000 to install, Horst said.

But the local airport could benefit from an instrument landing system, which is older and sends signals from the ground to the planes, indicating distance and the location of obstacles.

"It is a proven, reliable system for flying in inclement weather," Horst said.

Because of the required ground equipment, this kind of system would cost about $750,000 to install and $15,000 to $20,000 annually to maintain.

Local officials say it is common for the FAA to pay for both installation and maintenance.

FAA regional spokesman Jim Peters said requests for airport equipment are funded each year, depending on how much money Congress allots and on FAA priorities, with most of the money going to large airports.

He did say there is some money set aside specifically for "general reliever" airports, such as Carroll County's. Peters said the local airport would have to do a master plan and then submit a new "airport landing plan" before the FAA would even consider the system.

He said "a long time" was a safe estimate of the likelihood of having such a system locally.

Though Horst and Brown consider a precision landing system important to the airport's growth and future, they say it can survive without it.

"The precision landing system is not a fatal flaw, if we don't get it," Horst said.

Brown said traffic at the airport has increased steadily in the last four years, to about 150,000 operations -- each takeoff is an operation, each landing is another operation -- a year.

Pub Date: 4/19/99

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