After a Long Wait, Charles Airport to Expand

Jack Crawford, 86, a pilot and an owner of the Maryland Airport, calls the expansion
Jack Crawford, 86, a pilot and an owner of the Maryland Airport, calls the expansion "a boost for the community and all of Charles County." The multimillion-dollar project would allow the airport to handle overflow corporate jet traffic in the Washington region. Work would begin next year. (By Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)
By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 22, 2007

The owners of the small airport near Pomonkey in Charles County plan to sign an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration in the coming days to initiate a multimillion-dollar expansion designed to enable the airport to accommodate corporate jets, officials said.

Under the agreement, which could be made official as early as this week, the FAA will give the privately owned Maryland Airport $1.27 million to design a new runway. Construction of the 4,300-foot runway and new taxiways, which would allow the airport to handle overflow corporate jet traffic in the Washington region, is slated to begin next year and be completed by 2010, federal aviation officials said.

In exchange for the federal investment, the airport's owners will sign over development rights to the property, which is on a swath of partly forested land in the booming northwestern part of the county. That would protect the property's use as an airport for the indefinite future.

"I think it's a boost for the community and all of Charles County," said Jack Crawford, who co-owns the airport.

For Crawford, a pilot who at 86 still takes to the skies and has owned the airport since 1951, the agreement with the FAA has been long in the making.

For a decade, Crawford and partner Gil Bauserman have negotiated with county, state and federal officials to expand their airport. After a few years, they won several planning grants. Construction seemed around the corner.

Then came Sept. 11, 2001. After the terrorist attacks, the airport -- along with most other small airports in the region -- was shut down because officials thought its proximity to potential Washington targets made it a security risk.

Had it not been for the medevac helicopter that rented hangar space after the shutdown, the Maryland Airport may have gone out of business, Crawford said. After more than three months, the FAA lifted the ban on operations, and the airport was back in business.

But as expansion plans advanced, some residents voiced environmental concerns, fearing the expanded airport could damage sensitive wetlands and a portion of a Mattawoman Creek tributary.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Maryland Department of the Environment analyzed potential environmental effects, officials said, and allowed the project to move forward.

Now, nearly six years later, the airport is preparing to grow.

The FAA said the airfield near Pomonkey will provide a convenient landing spot for business jets and other aircraft with passengers bound for the Washington region, particularly Prince George's County and areas to the south and east. Like airports in Frederick, Gaithersburg, Leesburg and Manassas, the Pomonkey facility will be considered a reliever airport, said Terry Page, manager of the FAA's Washington district.

"We want to serve the demand, the people that want to get into the Washington area, the Prince George's County area, and this provides a gateway for those people to get into the area," Page said.

County officials are hailing the expansion as a significant economic development coup. The airport is near the Energetics Technology Center and a major business park being planned nearby on the Route 210 corridor in Indian Head.

"That whole 210 corridor on the west side of the county is going to be a very exciting place in the next decade and beyond," said Marcia Keeth of the county's Economic Development Department.

County officials expect the airport to be used by business executives traveling to the $2 billion National Harbor development under construction about 14 miles north along the Potomac River.

"This will bring executives into Charles County to discover the county and help us grow," county Commissioners President Wayne Cooper (D-At Large) said. "We've been working on this for many years, and we're just glad to see it come together."

Cooper said the county is considering a new terminal for the airport after the runway expansion is complete. County Commissioner Edith J. Patterson (D-Pomfret), whose district includes the airport, said she thinks the airport will draw jobs to the county.

"It will certainly be an extremely important part of our economic development and regional growth," she said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company