Airspace restrictions asked for Cuba game

Major League Baseball voices `security concerns' after aborted Havana flight

April 25, 1999|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Major League Baseball is asking federal officials to restrict the airspace over Camden Yards for the return match between the Orioles and members of the Cuban National Team because of "security concerns."

Baseball officials made the request for the May 3 game to the Federal Aviation Administration, which referred them to the U.S. Secret Service, according to federal officials.

"It's something we'd like to see done, for security reasons," said Patrick Courtney, a spokesman for Major League Baseball in New York.

Courtney said MLB representatives told the Orioles, city officials and representatives of the Maryland Stadium Authority about the request at a meeting two weeks ago in Baltimore. "We're working together with the Cuban delegation and we've gone over all sorts of security issues," he said.

Courtney said baseball officials are concerned about security after a Miami-based pilot attempted to drop leaflets over the Orioles-Cuba game in Havana on March 28.

Jose Basulto, the pilot who planned to drop literature on the Havana stadium, has told reporters that he has no intention of trying again in Baltimore.

Jim Peters, an FAA spokesman, said the request to restrict airspace for the Cuba game was forwarded to the Secret Service specifically because it involved national security issues.

"We forwarded it because of who it is that's playing," Peters said.

He said that the FAA does not routinely grant air restrictions. The FAA will be asked to impose air restrictions "from time to time," but they are reserved for events such as the NATO summit in Washington this week, Peters said.

"Extraordinary circumstances usually surround these kinds of restrictions," Peters said.

He said the FAA will sometimes try to prevent disturbances at major sporting events, such as the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadow, by having nearby New York City airports use only certain runways to minimize air traffic.

A veteran of the failed U.S.-sponsored invasion of Cuba in 1961 and founder of an organization to assist Cubans escaping the island on rafts, Basulto said he did not plan to leaflet Camden Yards. But he criticized the game as an "insult that trivializes the suffering of the Cuban people."

Basulto said his plan to drop leaflets March 28 was delayed by an unscheduled FAA inspection as he and a fellow pilot were seeking clearance for their planes to take off from Opa-Locka airport in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

He said he acknowledged to inspectors who found half a million leaflets in the planes his intention to drop them over the stadium.

They eventually were allowed to depart, but the leafletting plan was abandoned in the sky over Cuba, Basulto said, because wind conditions had changed.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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