Anne Arundel County officials plan to open Tipton Airfield at Fort Meade as a general aviation airport this summer, once they receive final operating approvals from the state and federal governments, officials said.
Once the Federal Aviation Administration and Maryland Aviation Administration give operating approval to the county's Tipton Airport Authority and County Executive Janet S. Owens (D) appoints an airport manager, the facility will be opened to business, said David Almy, a spokesman for the Tipton Airport Authority.
"We will open with some limitations in the next 60 days," Almy said.
The start of operations will culminate a four-year campaign by county officials to take over the airfield, which has been inactive since the Army ceased operations there in 1995. In recent months, the airfield--named after a World War I flying ace, Col. William Tipton--has been undergoing refurbishment, according to Almy.
For the first time in several years, the grass along the runways has been cut, and the building that will house air traffic control operations is being repainted. Before the airport reopens, the aprons and runways will be patched and repainted, and fuel tanks will be installed.
Since 1995, the Army has been negotiating to transfer the 366-acre tract to the county, in accordance with the 1988 federal Base Realignment and Closure Act. The law calls for the Pentagon to turn over to local governments properties that have publicly beneficial uses.
The transfer of the property was delayed after the Army discovered unexploded ordnance from a decades-old firing range and found oil drums buried on airfield land. Hopes of opening the airport in 1997 were dashed when the Environmental Protection Agency's cleanup of the area was delayed by bureaucratic wrangling.
"We had to make certain that all the cleanup questions and issues about the transfer of the deed were resolved before we could even start to think about the actual operations of the airport," said Sam Minnitte, special assistant to Owens and project manager for Tipton Airport.
Along the way, early proposals for building biking-hiking trails, a restaurant, playground and picnic areas on the site have fallen by the wayside.
Airport authority officials now say they are doing their utmost just to make sure that planes will be flying in and out of the west county facility by the end of next month.
"I really feel Tipton is going to be a great advantage to the county and the community and the state," said Glenn Parker, the chairman of the airport authority, who is a retired Baltimore lawyer and a pilot.
"We're right in the center of the state's population," he said. "You have Baltimore and its suburbs to the northeast, Washington and its suburbs to the southwest. You have Annapolis to the east and Ellicott City and Columbia to the west. The location is perfect."
At the same time, Parker said, the air traffic shouldn't disturb local communities.
"On one side of Tipton, you have NSA [National Security Agency] and Fort Meade, on the other the [Patuxent] wildlife preserve. The population is away from the airport, and believe me, birds don't complain about planes taking off like people do," he said.
The region needs another airport, he added.
"Right now, there is a terrible crunch to find tie-downs or hangar space," he said, referring to outdoor and indoor storage areas for planes.
Parker said the authority will work to attract small private planes that now take off and land at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, 20 miles to the north. Tipton's relatively short runways will not accommodate large commercial flights or business jets, he said.
The next big improvement will be the installation sometime next spring of a lighting system to allow night flights, Minnitte said.
The airport, when fully operational next year, will be able to accommodate 300 planes in its four hangars and 450,000-square-foot outdoor parking area.
Bill Badger, vice president of Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp., said Tipton will make the county more attractive to business.
"BWI has grown so much that there's really a need for another airfield to service civilian aircraft. The redevelopment of Tipton will give us that. It's an amenity corporate and business users like," Badger said.
Initially, the county will finance staffing and operations at Tipton, but it should become self-sufficient in three to five years, Minnitte said. The airport authority (composed of appointed members of the county's aviation community) will be responsible for overseeing the management and upkeep of the facility.
"If they can operate a neat, safe airport and use good sense in spending capital funds, there are revenue streams out there that can pay for all operations," he said.
Money will be generated by the sale of fuel and the rental of hangars and tie-downs.
The county also has three privately run airports: Lee Airport, south of Annapolis on Route 2, and the Miller Airport and Deep Creek Airport in the southern part of the county.