A Price Too High
For three small airports, there's no way back to life as it was before September 11.
- By Mark Huber
- Air & Space magazine, July 2002
(Page 4 of 4)
Retired U.S. Air Force chief master sergeant Larry Kelley, 71, is not a pilot. But he opened Beacon Flying Service, another flight school at Hyde, because “I just like airplanes and aviation guys are good guys,” he says. Kelley’s last assignment for the Air Force was superintendent of quality assurance for the 89th Wing of the Military Airlift Command, including the Presidential fleet. During his military career, Kelley flew as a flight mechanic on everything from B-25s to C-47s. Between 1969 and 1972 he flew aboard the ponderous C-47s on navaid checking flights over Vietnam, exercises that were magnets for Viet Cong ground fire. But nothing prepared him for the shot he took on September 11. Kelley lost $10,000 a month during the shutdown and he estimates that his retired or part-time instructors lost about $8,000 each for the duration. “I figured maybe we’d be shut down for a couple of days,” he says. “Boy, did I learn a lesson.”
Milton Gilley operates a maintenance shop at Hyde. September 11 forced Gilley to lay off employees, among them his son-in-law, Mark Gifford. As for money, Gilley estimates that during the shutdown he lost “38,000 by the books.” Business is “way down,” he says, but stoically adds, “I’m going to keep to it for the moment. I just as soon go bankrupt myself than have the government bankrupt me.”
Stan Fetter’s traffic reporting business was shut down until November 30, when he resumed operations flying from Maryland Airport under a special FAA waiver. He estimates that his business has lost more than $300,000. Fetter used his retirement savings and the proceeds from an SBA loan to cover shutdown-related losses. Resuming flying has reduced but not eliminated his red ink. “This has never been a business in which you are going to get rich,” he says. “My margins aren’t that great.”
Fetter is visibly angry about the time it took for the government to devise a plan to reopen his home airport and the effect the delay had on the aviation communities there. “Not to minimize the prices that were paid by those directly impacted on September 11, but there’s a batch of people out here who paid too high a price for what came afterward,” he says. “And there was really no reason for it.”
Lloyd Coleman, a Beacon flight instructor based at Hyde, thinks the ultimate price may yet to be exacted: “I don’t think business will get back to the way it was before 9/11,” he says.
At 8:35 a.m. on February 23, pilot Leon Jackler, an attorney with the Federal Communications Commission, landed his 1975 Grumman Yankee at College Park, the first resident civilian pilot to land there since September 11. After being shut down for nearly six months, College Park, Potomac, and Hyde had lost at least a collective $1.3 million—and much of their clientele. As of May 2002, only 35 of College Park’s previously based 87 aircraft had returned.�