Tipton could become one of the state's busiest airports, consultants say


When Tipton Army Airfield reopens as a civilian airport Oct. 1, aviation consultants have projected that it could become one of the busiest in the state during the next decade.

Airport project manager Sam Minnitte said the airport would be comparable in size to the Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg, which is the fourth busiest in the state with about 270 planes based there and 107,000 landings and take-offs each year.

That prediction drew concerns from about 35 aviators and residents, who fly out of or live near Tipton, at a public briefing last night at Meade Senior High School.

Several pilots asked state and federal aviation officials how they would regulate airspace since pilots already have difficulties flying into Tipton because of the heavy traffic at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, about 12 miles away.

"Are there any plans to make sure all these planes are safe?" asked one woman.

Bruce Mundie of the Maryland Aviation Administration assured the pilots that increased traffic is being studied and that airspace may be reconfigured.

Another pilot suggested that the military be banned from using Tipton, which would reduce the number of landings and take-offs by 57,000. Aviation consultants have projected that at full capacity, Tipton could have about 188,000 landings and take-offs in a year, including military use.

Tipton also is expected to have about 300 planes based there and generate about $25 million in annual revenue.

Mr. Minnitte said the counties could reduce federal operations at Tipton, but he did not say how that decision would be made.

Last night's meeting was the third public briefing on Tipton, which the Army will lease to Anne Arundel and Howard counties Oct. 1. The Department of Defense designated the 366-acre airport as surplus property during the military's nationwide base closings and realignment in the 1980s.

Both counties, which have been sponsoring the meetings, will operate the airport jointly. The Army will hand over the airport when it finishes cleaning up toxic wastes at the site, which will be in 1997, said Sara Gracey, the Fort Meade environmental cleanup coordinator.

In addition to Tipton's growth, residents were also concerned about safety and noise.

"We're not in favor of the airport," said Charles Levay, who is president of Peach Orchards, an Anne Arundel community that is about 3 miles from Tipton. "We have Suburban Airport. We have BWI. We have Bowie Airport. We have enough in the area. We just don't need another airport."

"We know we have to be neighbors with BWI. But with those additional aircraft [from Tipton], you just don't feel safe anymore," Mr. Levay added.

Andrew Meyer of the Forks Patuxent Improvement Association in Anne Arundel said he knows from experience that noise could pose problems.

"I'm more concerned about noise," he said. "I moved away from Woodside Apartments because of the noise [from BWI]."

Mr. Mundie said noise would not be a problem because the airport is surrounded by Fort Meade and the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

Howard County officials announced last night they are sponsoring one more public meeting, tentatively April 11 at Hammond High.

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