Chesterfield County Airport had a fence before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and was the first Virginia airport to be certified by the voluntary security program. The airport, which sees about 75,000 flights a year, also has video surveillance and badges that unlock and record who passes through the gates.
"We try to protect what we have and not let it become part of anything devious," manager Charles Dane said.
The airport is home base for 140 planes, which makes it about the fourth-largest general aviation airport in the state. It is also home to the Virginia State Police aviation unit.
At almost all airports, pilots lock planes and hangars and watch for anything out of the ordinary.
Chris Parks, a Nashville, Tenn.-based corporate pilot, was resting in the Chesterfield terminal this week. "The aviation community has always been tight. It's a small world, and people who don't fit in stand out like a fish out of water," he said.
Hanover County Municipal Airport, home to 80 airplanes and one jet, relies on the eyes of plane owners as security. It plans to begin erecting a 9-foot fence this year.
Hank Rempe, the airport's new director, said it is adding a terminal and hangars to accommodate increased demand.
Airport managers at the state's more rural airports say they often rely on police to patrol perimeters.
Freeman Field, Louisa County's airport, doesn't have a perimeter fence, which manager Ronald F. Reynolds thinks is a mistake.
"I don't want it to keep people out. I just want to keep livestock and especially deer out," he said. "That's what worries me."
But Reynolds said deer are not the only concern since Sept. 11. "I admit I look harder at people when they charter planes."
Reynolds said planes are locked up "if we're not around to watch them," though things are generally peaceful.
The airport, which has a 4,300-foot runway, can have up to 100 flights on a good day.
The last security incident he remembers occurred about six months after Sept. 11, when a local pilot violated airspace above Washington. A plane carrying a SWAT team followed the Louisa-bound plane to the airport, and the officers came charging out with guns. "It was all over in 20 minutes," Reynolds said. "They were satisfied nothing was wrong."
Farmville Regional Airport is surrounded by a 4-foot cattle fence, but a new, more secure one is on the way, Town Manager Gerry Spates said.
The airport, home to 24 planes, was among the first to participate in a state security audit several years ago, and its open appearance doesn't reflect its strict security measures, Spates said.
"We did fine, but [the auditors] made a lot of suggestions," he said.
Farmville police patrol the airport, and someone is there 24 hours a day; the airport managers live on the property, he said. Planes, hangars and fuel tanks are locked at all times, Spates said.
Eagle's Nest Airport in Waynesboro is nestled in a housing development with 62 small planes, said John Trissel, the airport manager.
The private airstrip poses virtually no security threat since 90 percent of the planes are locked inside hangars at the residents' homes, he said.
"Anybody who doesn't own one of the airplanes here is a foreign person to us," Trissel said. "We know our own."
John McDonald is the eyes and ears of Tappahannock Municipal Airport, a 2,785-foot asphalt strip that began life as an emergency field for Army bombers during World War II.
There is no security gate and no fence around the airport, which sees 15 to 20 takeoffs and landings on an average day.
McDonald wishes the airfield were fenced. Federal agencies are saving the money for use at an $8 million airport under construction south of Tappahannock that will replace the strip.
"It will be state-of-the-art," with alarms and security systems that the existing field lacks, he says.
Staff writers Lawrence Latani III, Kathryn Orth, Carlos Santos and Calvin R. Trice contributed to this report.
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