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Chester County Press

New Garden Flying Field adjusts to new restrictions due to Biden flights to DE

03/23/2021 03:34PM ● By Richard Gaw

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

After his eight-year tenure as the Vice President of the United States ended on Jan. 20, 2017, Joseph R. Biden resumed living with his wife Jill and their two dogs in their lakeside home off of Barley Mill Road in Greenville, Delaware.

In the last months of his campaign for the Presidency last fall, navigating the road became a challenge for motorists, as roadblocks and U.S. Secret Service units served to turn the area into a “no-drive” zone. The same protection was accorded Biden in the skies above his home through what is known as Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR), a charge administered by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that identifies areas that are restricted to air travel due to hazardous conditions, special events or the protection of dignitaries, such as the President of the United States.

Effective Jan. 20, 2021, when Biden assumed the office of the Presidency, two TFRs suddenly went into overdrive, and will remain in effect for the duration of Biden’s term in the White House.

The first TFR covers a 12-nautical-mile radius over Rehoboth, where the President has a beach home, and the second is a similar 12-nautical mile ring over Biden’s Greenville home. Contained in that circle are two airports – the New Castle Airport and the New Garden Flying Field in Toughkenamon, which is, by way of nautical distance, eight-and-a-half miles from Biden’s home.

Translated, whenever Biden travels back to Greenville as President – and for the entire duration of his visits -- operations at the New Garden Flying Field have and will continue to come to a screeching halt: no flight instruction, no landings or take-offs, no refueling of aircraft, and no public events that take months to organize.

While New Castle and New Garden are the airports hardest hit with the FAA’s Presidential TFR, these restrictions will not affect five airports located along the outer 30-nautical-mile ring, as well as nine other public-use airports within this outer ring. While certain activities will be prohibited when the TFR is in effect, these airports will remain accessible to general aviation. 

‘Everyone is just pointing in the other direction’

For the last few months, New Garden Flying Field Aviation Director Jon Martin has himself been at the center of a ring, trying to land solutions in a swirling headwind of bureaucracy.

Martin has been strategizing with representatives from EAA Chapter 240, the New Garden Flight Connection and other agencies to come up with solutions that will enable the airport to maintain operations during those stretches when Biden is at his home. He has pursued opportunities for funding to help supplement the income that the New Garden Flight Connection is likely to lose, as well as the projected loss of revenue in fuel sales.

“Early in January, I got a call from the FAA asking what type of impact this was going to be for us, and asking if we had any ideas or solutions to discuss the full ramifications of these shutdowns,” Martin said. “I’ve reached out to Sen. Chrissy Houlahan, discussed possible solutions with the Pennsylvania Aviation Council, and also met with a Secret Service agent, who told me that the agency will let me know about the President’s travel plans as well in advance as possible, to allow for proper planning.

“Nobody, between the Bureau of Aviation, the FAA or the U.S. Secret Service has really said ‘Let’s get the community together and discuss the validity of TFRs,’” he added. “Everyone is just pointing in the other direction.”

Nationally, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) has been working with the FAA and other agencies since to gather information about how future presidential TFRs might impact general aviation operations, part of a years-long effort spanning many administrations to mitigate the economic damage and inconvenience that these restrictions can cause. Closer to home, several regional airports have offered New Garden the opportunity to loan their sites to general aviator pilots to relocate when TFRs are in place.

Martin said that while the U.S. Secret Service has been diligent in informing him about an upcoming TFR as far in advance as possible, airports like New Garden Flying Field are often on the receiving end of last-minute changes in the President’s schedule, and sometimes, on three hours’ notice.

“A few weeks ago, we learned that a TFR was going to start on a Friday afternoon, so the night before, we hired pilots to fly the five planes that belong to our Flight Connection over to Chester County Airport’s south apron, so that we could continue our schedule,” Martin said. “The TFR was not posted until Saturday afternoon, and about 30 minutes later, it was canceled.”

Air Show on hold for now

The introduction of the TFRs forms the second punch in a double-whammy hit that will continue to hammer the Flying Field’s bottom line. In 2020, the pandemic wiped out its usual schedule of public events, including its popular Air Show, which draws thousands of visitors every year.

For Martin, the worst-case scenario is very likely to be realized: As long as TFRs are in place, there will be no air shows at the airport for at least the next four years.

“I would love to resurrect the Air Show this year, and I think we could be able to, but the problem is that it takes about a year in advance to plan the event,” Martin said. “We can’t plan it and put all of our deposit funds up while at the same time receive a confirmation that there will be no Presidential TFR in effect on that particular weekend.”

Canceled in 2020 because of COVID-19 concerns, the Future Aviators Camp, which regularly draws over 100 campers from all over the country every summer, will return to the Flying Field this year, but it is very likely to be affected by a potential TFR.

“While I completely understand the crucial importance of national security, it is certainly a very difficult situation for a business like an airport to continue to operate, especially if we’re looking at this for the next four years, or more.”

If there is a “most severe” aspect of how the Presidential TFRs may impact the New Garden Flying Field, it will be in the potential loss of aviators who have used the airport’s hangars for the storage of their aircraft, regularly refuel at its pump stations, and use the services of the airport’s maintenance center for tune-ups. In monetary terms, those services account for 80 percent of the airport’s annual revenue.

“We have 130 aircraft at our field, and my concern is that these airplane owners are ultimately going to get fed up with this and decide to relocate to another airport,” Martin said.

Martin imagines a day in the near future where he can sit down at a table with a committee made up of representatives from the FAA, the U.S. Secret Service and the Bureau of Aviation to come up with a clear and permanent solution for airports that are affected by Presidential TFRs.

“Everybody understands the predicaments we are in, but the challenge is finding those in a position of authority and having a discussion that asks, ‘Does this make sense?’ and ‘What can we do for future airports and for future presidents so as not to hurt the airports’ businesses located in those rings?’” Martin said.

“Maybe the answer is just funding the airports for their projected losses, but I’m not a believer in just paychecking our way through a problem. Over the past ten years, we have been working hard to promote the New Garden Flying Field in the community, and without being able to run our events and operate the airport, all of that hard work will get pushed by the wayside.”

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].