AVIATION Operations at small airports decline greatly

Managers at general aviation airports say they are operating far below normal.
Operations at several small airports in the region have been greatly curtailed since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington because of aviation restrictions imposed at the national level.
"Right now, we are pretty much shut down," Mike Stanko, manager of Elser Airport in North Lima, said late Tuesday.
Only four planes landed or took off there Tuesday, compared to 40 to 50 on a normal business day, said Stanko, whose airport handles small private planes and small business jets. Tuesday's total did not count Ohio Department of Health flights from Elser to drop raccoon rabies vaccine.
Since Sept. 11, there have been four takeoffs or landings at Grove City Airport and one landing at Greenville Airport, said Roderick Paul, manager of Greenville Airport. Paul is also co-owner, with his wife, Carol, of Elbow Street Aviation, the company that operates both airports.
In a normal week, there would have been a minimum of 50 to 60 operations (takeoffs or landings) in Grove City and 100 in Greenville, he said.
All three are general aviation airports, meaning that they serve all traffic except commercial airlines.
Factor: A major factor in the curtailment of activity at these airports is the ban on flying by visual flight rules (VFR), which has been imposed nationally by the Federal Aviation Administration at the direction of the National Security Council.
With VFR, flying is done by human eyesight and reference points the pilot sees on the ground.
With instrument flight rules(IFR), flying is done by electronic instruments, and requires a higher level of pilot training than VFR. Fewer pilots are certified for IFR than VFR, Stanko said.
The FAA can always monitor IFR flights electronically, but it cannot always monitor VFR flights electronically, Stanko said, explaining the security-related ban on VFR. Normally, at Elser, 25 percent of the traffic operates by IFR and the rest by VFR, he said.
At Grove City and Greenville, most aircraft are small private planes and 90 percent of the flights are VFR, Paul said. Glider operation and sky diving, which are normally done from Grove City, are suspended because both require VFR flying, he said. Because private pilots train under VFR, such training, which is normally done at Greenville, is suspended, he explained.
Not flying: But there's more to it than that. "Right now, people just aren't flying, period. I think a lot of it has to do with uncertainty of what's happening in the country now. Everybody has a wait and see attitude," Stanko said. Many business travelers and private plane owners are not flying, he said.
As for security, Stanko said his airport is following tips contained in an FAA memo that temporarily grounded all nonmilitary U.S. aviation. The memo was issued after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Obviously, we're keeping a closer eye on things," Paul said, adding that his company is carefully verifying the qualifications of any pilot seeking to rent a plane.
Because their airports are small and they know most users, both Stanko and Paul said it's relatively easy for them to spot strangers or anything out of the ordinary.

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