Potomac Airfield Owner Fights Airspace Rules

FORT WASHINGTON (AP) - Potomac Airfield is small as airports go - just one 2,600-foot long runway used by light single or twin-engine private planes. Many pilots using it are recreational fliers, or those who want to go to Washington, which lies only a few miles to the north.

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. He compares it's size to "an aircraft carrier, parked in a forest, at the bottom of a ravine in the most restrictive airspace in the world."

But Potomac Airfield is one of three private airports that sit within a tightly controlled zone of airspace around Washington. And the Transportation Security Administration, which regulates security at the airport, doesn't appear to agree with Mr. Wartofsky that it is innocuous. Late last year the agency shut down Potomac for nearly a month because of security violations.

Even as the TSA and other federal agencies weigh whether to make the restricted airspace zones permanent, Mr. Wartofsky and other private airport operators in the Washington region are pushing for changes in rules that they say unfairly punish harmless private pilots in an overzealous effort to protect Washington.

The federal government established a restricted flight zone over the capital after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The measure was initially temporary, but the FAA is weighing whether to make it a permanent regulation and is taking public comment through Feb. 6. Most private pilots, who could face fines or suspension of their licenses for violating the air space, don't want the zones to stay. The FAA has received more than 20,000 comments on the proposal.

Laura Brown, an FAA spokeswoman, said the agency will review the comments before making a decision on the restricted zones. She did not know when the FAA would act.

The airports with arguably the most at stake in the decision are the "DC Three," including Potomac Airfield, that sit inside the highly restrictive inner zone. The other two are College Park Airport and Washington Executive/Hyde Field.

Mr. Wartofsky, who bought Potomac Airfield in 1987, is trying to convince federal agencies that the air space rules are confusing, overly restrictive, and not useful enough to protect the capital.

Instead of permanent flight restrictions, Mr. Wartofsky proposes a smaller permanent flight restricted zone over the nation's capital, with borders that conveniently wouldn't cover his airport. During times of national crisis, a temporary "pop out" no-fly zone could be extended farther out to protect the capital.

It unlikely the Pentagon would accept a fluctuating zone, according to Air Force Col. Randy Morris, a representative of the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

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