The U.S. Transportation Security Administration announced yesterday that three small airports in Prince George's County will reopen on a restricted basis to pilots and planes based at other airfields.
Pilots and aviation organizations have lobbied to ease access to College Park Airport, Potomac Airfield and Washington Executive Airport/Hyde Field since they were shut after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The TSA, which is assuming responsibility for security at the three general aviation airports, said pilots will have to undergo background checks and comply with other security procedures.
The airports were allowed to reopen six months after the attacks, but only to pilots and planes based at the airfields with security clearances. All three airports are within a no-fly zone established around Washington for small, private aircraft, which generally must use airports outside the zone.
Without the action, the airports would have had to shut down Sunday at the expiration of a Federal Aviation Authority rule, a TSA spokesman said. The spokesman said the agency made the change because of improved screening capabilities.
"This small, but important, change . . . shows that there are opportunities for improvements, but progress is going to be slow," said Andy Cebula, an official with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which posted instructions on its Web site for pilots seeking clearances.
Among other steps, pilots will have to present credentials to airport security personnel, confirm documents at FAA district offices, submit fingerprints at Reagan National Airport and pay a $31 fee.
After viewing security procedures at their intended airfield, pilots will be issued an identification number to fly under flight rules to be issued by the FAA, the pilots association said.
Airport owners praised the change, after reporting losses last year of more than $8 million in fuel sales, rent from pilots, airplane parts sales and flight schools revenue.
Stan Fetter, manager of Washington Executive/Hyde Field in Clinton, said flight operations dropped 90 percent after 9/11, but he expected a rebound from fliers including people doing business at Andrews Air Force Base, recreational pilots in the region and people with family relations in the area.
"It's going to help," Fetter said. "We're eight miles from D.C. . . . Since general aviation is still not able to use Reagan National Airport, I think this is ultimately going to be a big deal."
Staff writer Jamie Stockwell contributed to this report.