That's when flights at Martin State began to drop. In fiscal 2002, 129,452 aircraft took off or landed at the airport. In fiscal 2007, which ended in June, the number of operations fell to 84,083, according to records kept by the Maryland Aviation Administration, which runs the state-owned airport, as well as Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
The airport's primary sources of revenue are hangar rentals and fuel sales, the prices of which have risen and kept Martin State making money though many planes are parked more than they are flying. Revenue grew to $8.4 million in 2007 from $6 million in 2002.
But state officials say an analysis of 11 airports inside the zone from 2002 to 2005 shows that collectively they were not growing or adding jobs at the same rate as 13 public-use airports just on the outside, including Carroll County Regional, Cecil County and Frederick Municipal airports. Airports inside the zone added one job, while those outside added 210. Revenue fell by $29 million to $231.6 million for those inside, while it grew by $19 million to $215 million for perimeter airports.
FAA officials recognized the economic hardship for general aviation airports and pilots and made the change. Many pilots and airport directors, including Martin's, had lobbied for modifications, and the FAA agreed to lose the mouse ears to create a near-perfect circle with a 30-mile radius.
The FAA will also simplify the procedures for flying in the zone, and it will have more eyes on that airspace because it is adding more ground controllers to handle the demand from pilots. It is also implementing a speed limit so officials can more easily track and contact scofflaw pilots.
"Our aim is to balance vigilance with new measures that make it easier to track who belongs in this airspace and who does not," said outgoing FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey, in a statement.
The changes won't affect major airports across the country. They are typically close to major cities and have their own rules, albeit less stringent than those in the Washington-area zone. BWI remains inside that zone.
The changes will improve conditions at Martin State. It will join other airports in outlying areas that have allowed private planes to come and go with ease, contributing to their appeal to executives and recreational fliers.
Chris Dancy, a spokesman for the Airline Owners and Pilots Association, said he wished more Maryland airports would be excluded from the zone. He expects pilots, especially those just passing through, to still violate the restricted space.
"Most violations have been pilots who've skimmed too close to the border and ended up inside. For others, their equipment fails or air traffic control loses touch with them."
Examining the zone is a good idea, said Richard W. Bloom, an anti-terrorism professor and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He said the government needs to adapt to changing threats and vulnerabilities. But it also needs to use its resources efficiently and consider economic impact on others.
"You don't want to waste limited resources going after folks who are not a threat," he said. "If the zone is easier to comply with, good-guy aviators have one less thing to worry about. But then you also can put your efforts toward what might be a legitimate threat."
Back at Martin, tenants were just glad their hardship was considered this time. Charlie Schaefer, co-owner of Phoenix Aviation, a flight school at the airport, said he expects business to return.
"When a student books a two-hour lesson and spends a half-hour talking to an instructor and a half-hour sitting on the phone [with the FAA], there's not much time left for the lesson," he said. "We're going to throw a party when this is over."
The government wants permanently to restrict a wide swath of airspace over the Washington area and make it a crime if a private pilot knowingly enters a zone that extends from Maryland to Virginia.
The FAA, the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the TSA are responsible for ensuring pilots don't fly where they shouldn't.
The airport, which can even accommodate small private jets, isn't big enough to worry officials who fret over the use of planes to attack the nation's capital, according to owner David Wartofsky.
When pilots see the light from green-and-red laser beams, it means they've flown into restricted airspace.