Mixing it up

After a decade of growth, a BWI reliever renovates; looks to expand runway


ODENTON, MD — Formerly a United States Army airfield, Tipton Aiport opened for public use in 1999, and has been growing ever since, relates airport manager Michael Wassel. With plans to extend the airport’s recently renovated lone runway, Wassel expects operations to change from a primary mix of recreational general aviation activity to more of the business type by offering convenience to the same market served by Baltimore Washington International (BWI). Meanwhile, Tipton tenant Ultra Aviation sheds light on the aircraft sales market.

Located in Central Maryland and bordered by Fort George G. Meade, the National Security Agency, and the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge, Tipton Airport is equidistant between Baltimore, Washington D.C., Annapolis, and Columbia. Comments airport manager Michael Wassel, “Tipton was intended by FAA to be a GA reliever for BWI; that’s sort of the niche we see ourselves in. Between D.C. and Baltimore, we are the biggest of the GA airports.”

Wassel spent several years in the Air Force before becoming part of the management staff at Reagan National for some 12 years. He has been managing Tipton for ten years now, commenting, “The first winter the airport was open back in ‘99, we had three aircraft based here; the trend has definitely been upward since.” Tipton now bases some 120 aircraft.

In the late ‘90s, Anne Arundel County presented legislation that was passed by the state to create the Tipton Airport Authority, the operating entity of the airport. “We are basically a public corporation; we are not a county agency, we are an entity of the county government,” explains Wassel.

In terms of the benefits of having an airport authority, Wassel says, “It sort of puts you in the middle of the public sector and the private sector. It forces us to run like a business.” The authority is a nine-member board consisting of county residents.

Improving operations
Tenants on the field include One World Aero, a flight school; Tipton Aircraft Services, which handles maintenance; Ultra Aviation, an aircraft sales and acquisition company; Fort Meade Flying Activity; MedSTAR, an air ambulance operation; U.S. Helicopters, a news agency; and the county police.

The airport is the field’s only fixed base operator, offering both 100LL and jet-A in a self-service capacity.

All of the facilities currently on the field were inherited from the Army, remarks Wassel. Early on, he adds, “We were in the Military Airports Program, which was a special funding pot the FAA used to have to help move former military facilities into civilian use; we used some of that funding to renovate some of the hangars. “The county also initially gave us some money to improve some of the hangars.

“In Ultra Aviation’s case, the facility leased is one of the better hangars we have in terms of improvements; we renovated that through rental credits with Ultra.

“Biggest thing we have done so far is in improving the operation we have,” remarks Wassel. “With FAA funding, we have resurfaced the runway and the taxiway, we conducted a major ramp repair last year, and added a medium-intensity runway lighting system.”

Going forward, Wassel’s next goal is to add 1,200 feet to the east end of the runway, expanding it to 4,200 feet. “We are capable of serving a King Air 200 — that’s our standard aircraft,” he says. “But a 4200-foot runway puts us in the realm of being able to serve more of the business travelers who are flying turboprops.

“We have some of those King Airs coming in here now, so we are not going to change the size of the aircraft coming here, it will just change the mix a little bit. What we offer then is a lower cost alternative to BWI [which sits eight miles north of Tipton Airport].”

Tipton weathered the economic downturn pretty well, explains Wassel. The airport sold 232,000 gallons of fuel in 2008, and 216,000 gallons in 2009. Last year’s annual revenue totaled $1.5 million; there is a total of 110,388 square feet of hangar space on the field.

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