Tipton Airport looks for financial rebound

New attractions may help after Sept. 11 shutdown

February 15, 2002|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

Two months after the Federal Aviation Administration lifted all flying restrictions at Tipton Airport, those operating the former Army airfield are not looking back.

They say they're getting past losses incurred during the month when the federal government closed airports near Washington after the attacks Sept. 11 and the two subsequent months when flights were severely restricted.

"In our case, we kind of made the decision to bite the bullet, if you will, and move on," said Tipton spokesman David Almy. "We took a hit, but we're just taking the hit."

Dennis McCoy, Tipton Airport Authority's chairman, said the airport, at Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County, would have difficulty proving that it lost as much as $5,000 a day when it was closed. But Tipton didn't lay off employees or cut staff. Because it's county-run, McCoy didn't have a mortgage on the property that he had to pay.

"We don't have any provable losses," McCoy said.

Instead of seeking government help, Tipton is focusing on recruiting customers and keeping those it has. That plan appears to be working.

This month, Tipton received self-serve fuel tanks, which it asked the county for more than a year ago. The tanks, which pilots taxi up to and pay with a credit card just as a driver at a gas station would, were supposed to arrive early last year.

Until now, the planes at Tipton had to refuel from a truck, which the airport leased and which an airport employee operated. If pilots needed fuel after hours, they were out of luck.

Because fuel is one of Tipton's largest revenue sources, officials expect the customer-friendly tanks to be a financial boon.

"It's one more thing that will make the airport blossom," Almy said.

Another draw: A new interchange and exit for the airport being built on Route 32 is expected to be complete by spring. Pilots now must access Tipton from a dirt road off Route 198.

Tipton also is quickly renting out all of its tie-downs, for which it charges $75 a month. Of the 90 tie-downs available for storing planes, two are vacant.

Business at Tipton has increased 20 percent since it reopened, a gain airport officials attribute to the closure and slow reopening of several other area airports.

After the attacks of Sept. 11, the FAA closed the airspace within 25 miles of Reagan Washington National Airport to general aviation. The same restrictions applied to airports in Boston and the New York area.

On Oct. 6, the FAA reduced the restricted zone from 25 miles to 18 miles in all three cities. Tipton, at 18.2 miles from National, barely squeaked in - and it wasn't totally in the clear because the FAA would allow only pilots with instrument training to fly. That meant about a fifth of Tipton's pilots couldn't fly.

But at that time, six Maryland airports - Suburban Airport in Laurel, Freeway Airport in Bowie, Maryland Airport in Indian Head, Potomac Airport in Fort Washington, Washington Executive/Hyde Field in Clinton and College Park Airport - remained closed. Eager fliers with instrument training began moving their planes to Tipton.

On Dec. 19, Suburban, Freeway and Indian Head reopened, and Tipton's restrictions dropped. But some of the planes that had moved to Tipton during the closures decided to stay.

Tipton officials expect that will continue when Potomac, Hyde and College Park reopen, which is expected next week. Almy said some pilots won't want to return to the three airports, which are within 15 miles of the Washington Monument, because security will be tight.

"In the case of Tipton," Almy said, "we're just lucky that we're some distance from Washington."

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