Tipton Airport officials are wooing business executives with a proposal to allow corporate jets to take off and land at the former military airfield just south of Fort Meade.
Board members overseeing the Anne Arundel County-owned airport have held informal meetings with state and federal aviation officials this year, and conceptual drawings to expand the 3,000-foot runway to accommodate jets were received favorably, said Eric Flamino, chairman of the Tipton Airport Authority.
While the project is years off, airport officials are seeking to capitalize on the boom at Fort Meade, which will add tens of thousands of jobs over the next seven years, as well as Central Maryland's commercial growth, particularly in the high-tech sector.
Local and state leaders are pushing to build a regional bus facility at Tipton that would serve as a transfer point for routes serving Fort Meade and Odenton, potentially ferrying thousands of military workers brought in as part of the base realignment and expansion process, known as BRAC.
"Tipton Airport could be an integral part of the BRAC expansion," Flamino said. "Being a couple of miles from the MARC station, it could be an important part of an integrated transportation system."
County Executive John R. Leopold said that planning for future transit needs - such as extending the Metrorail Green Line and expanding Maryland Rail Commuter service stops - is crucial.
"Part of that planning should include an examination of Tipton to accommodate additional corporate travel," Leopold said. "All of that is part of the tailwind of growth that BRAC offers."
The county has marketed Tipton for regional travelers and aviation business since taking over the 366-acre property in 1999.
The concept of an expanded runway fits in with plans for growth of aviation across Central Maryland, said Cheryl Stewart, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Aviation Administration.
Smaller airports such as Tipton and Martin State Airport in eastern Baltimore County take the strain off BWI-Marshall Airport, Stewart said.
Flamino noted that some executives travel through Tipton to conduct business in the Baltimore-Washington region. They arrive in prop planes, with a car ready to take them to Washington, Fort Meade or elsewhere, he said.
Travelers flying on corporate jets don't need to check their luggage, go through extensive security checks or wait at the gate. Instead, they can use that time to work.
"You can land at a small community airport, and your business may be right at the airport or very close to it," said Dan Hubbard, a spokesman for the National Business Aviation Association, a trade group that represents corporate jets. "It can make it much easier to do business."
While working for a defense contractor out of Chesapeake, Va., Claire Louder, now executive director of the West County Chamber of Commerce, flew last year on a corporate jet to a conference in Jacksonville, Fla. She estimated that her group saved about six hours on the round trip over taking a commercial flight.
"I do believe that for corporate travelers, any time they can avoid the hassle of going through the larger airports, they are going to choose to do that because time is money."
But a larger aviation presence at Tipton could raise concerns about security and noise. The flight path rests within a mile of the National Security Agency headquarters.
Some civic leaders are concerned about the possibility of small jets - in addition to prop planes and helicopters - roaring over residential areas such as Maryland City, Russett, Odenton and Piney Orchard.
However, business leaders said that demand for such service is apparent, pointing to the National Business Park and other office parks that house many of the country's largest defense contractors.
Nearly 2,800 hotel rooms are under county review or construction, and Leopold is pressing to complete a conference center near BWI over the next four years to attract further business growth.
"There are significant numbers of the larger defense contractors that could be using these facilities and would appreciate the convenience of Tipton Airport," Louder said.
Projects to expand the runway and build a terminal are years off, Flamino said. An environmental review of Tipton, which abuts the 7,600-acre Patuxent Research Refuge, could last two years or more, he said.
Fort Meade provides water and sewerage to the airport, and the Army's ability to provide those services not just for thousands of new federal workers, but also for Tipton to accommodate an expansion will be a challenge, according to people familiar with Tipton. Fort Meade is also looking to overhaul its sewage treatment plant by 2011.
"Water and sewer is a factor that everyone is looking at," Flamino said. "That is a limiting factor."
A Fort Meade spokeswoman did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.