Maryland's first new airport in 20 years opened yesterday in Anne Arundel County.

Tipton Airport, halfway between Washington and Baltimore, was inaugurated in a ceremony attended by 150 people and a host of elected officials. The event completed a 10-year effort to convert what was once a busy Army airfield on the grounds of Fort George G. Meade to a public airport operated by the county.

"We are finding new uses for our facilities in the new economy," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D), who worked with local and federal officials to clean up the 366-acre site and transfer ownership from the Defense Department to the county.

Mikulski, along with Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D), Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest (R) and county officeholders, signed documents deleting the airport property from the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund National Priority List. Over the past 15 months, work crews have had to remove unexploded ordnance from the property, left over from when the Army used the area as a firing range.

After the Fort Meade color guard marched past, small planes began buzzing down the 3,000-foot-long runway.

County Executive Janet S. Owens (D) predicted that the airport would be "an economic boon to Anne Arundel County," attracting business executives and recreational pilots to the area.

"There is huge pent-up demand," said John Pilkins, a member of the Tipton Airport Authority. "I keep my plane at BWI and I've been on a waiting list for a hangar for eight years."

John Buck, airport services officer at the Maryland Aviation Administration, agreed that Tipton had "a lot of potential" to attract air traffic. There are 36 public airports in the state, he said, down from 39 in the mid-1980s. Before Tipton, the last airport to open in the state was the Carroll County Airport in 1979, he said.

"The physical plant is superb," said Bob Cadwalader, who attended the ceremony. He operates Baltimore Aviation Ltd., a flight school based at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, and said he would like to expand his operations by leasing space in one of the four large unoccupied hangars on the Tipton grounds.

"There's a lot of people who want to come here for the location and the size," he said.

Tipton Manager Michael A. Wassel, a former deputy manager at Reagan National Airport, plans to install fueling facilities by the end of the month. A new runway lighting system should be in place by spring, he said.

But Wassel said other improvements, such as renovating the hangars and attracting an aviation maintenance company, might take longer.

"It's not going to happen overnight," he said.

The Tipton Airport Authority has received $315,000 from the county in the past two fiscal years to pay for improvements, according to Pilkins. The airport, which is currently open to aircraft during daylight hours, is expected to become economically self-sufficient in several years.

The airport is named for William D. Tipton, a highly decorated pilot from Baltimore who flew combat missions in both world wars.

CAPTION: Arthur Ray, left, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment, and Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes sign certificate removing Tipton Airport from Superfund site list.