APS News

World’s Oldest Airport May Be Terrorists’ Victim

Physics Education: Education of a Physicist

By Richard M. Todaro

College Park Airport, known as ''the oldest, continuously operating airport in the world'' is grounded until further notice. Photo credit: Alicia Chang
College Park Airport, known as "the oldest, continuously operating airport in the world" is grounded until further notice.
Photo credit: Alicia Chang/APS

The headquarters of the American Physical Society in College Park, Maryland is also home to the College Park Airport, a small facility with the unique distinction of being "the oldest, continuously operating airport in the world."

But the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 prompted severe restrictions on private general aviation in at least 30 cities around the country, including a ban on all such aviation within a 25 nautical mile radius of Washington, DC and New York City.

While the restrictions are being gradually relaxed, and even though the radius of the ban about Washington's Reagan National Airport and New York's JFK Airport has been shrunk to 18 nautical miles, the College Park Airport falls well inside this range.

When the "temporary flight restricted area" about Washington and New York will be lifted is not clear. College Park Airport manager Lee Schiek said that high-ranking FAA officials told him reopening is likely to be a "multi-month" process.

"Founded" as an airstrip in 1909 by none other than Wilbur Wright himself - who was here to demonstrate the usefulness of his flying machine to the US Government - the College Park Airport turned 92 years old on October 26.

Unlike private, for-profit airports inside the restricted areas, the College Park Airport is run by the Maryland Park and Planning Commission, a quasi-governmental state agency that oversees parks, recreation and related zoning issues in Prince George's and Montgomery Counties. As such, the airport's survival through this difficult time is a good bet.

"We have resources available that will allow us to buffer the problem we are having right now," Schiek said. "Our private sector maintenance has moved off-site."

But will the airport now lose its status as the "oldest, continuously operating airport in the world" now that it isn't operating?

Schiek said that with the help of the county police department, this won't happen.

"A helicopter belonging to the Prince George's County Police touches down on the tarmac every day in order for us to maintain our status as the 'world's oldest, continuously operating airport,' " he said. Guinness Book of World Records, take note.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette