November 1, 2005
Freeway Airport is arguably the national capital area's most visible general aviation field: Thousands of commuters race by daily on U.S. Route 50 near Bowie, Maryland, making their way to Washington, D.C. Freeway also is one of the closest Washington airports for general aviation operations, without the restrictions strangling the so-called "DC-3" fields closer to the capital. But it also is an airport severely affected by the Washington Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), complicating Stan Rodenhauser's effort to maintain the aviation business he spent a lifetime building.
Rodenhauser grew up at his family's airport, soloing a Piper J-3 Cub at age 16. He began managing Freeway in 1963. His father, Irvin, had acquired a Mooney dealership, but the airport really blossomed under Stan's leadership.
Freeway became a top Mooney dealership and developed a busy flight school. By 2001 the Part 141 operation had eight full-time and five part-time instructors flying 18 aircraft. The shop had six full-time mechanics and an enduring reputation for Mooney service.
But on September 11, 2001, Freeway was shut down, and nothing has been the same since. "That was something I cannot describe — your life is taken away from you, but you have no control over it. No one is talking to you. We had no idea when we were going to be open or if we were going to be open."
Rodenhauser had been elected president of the Greater Bowie Chamber of Commerce shortly before the attacks. He rallied community leaders, and threw himself into lobbying federal and state officials. In Washington, he testified before the House aviation subcommittee. "They just left general aviation hanging out there. We used up all our capital reserves; it was beyond stressful."
Freeway reopened by Christmas 2001, but the creation of the ADIZ means pilots must file a flight plan, get a clearance and squawk code, and maintain contact with controllers for every flight, even pattern work. Residential development now threatens the airport, although airport advocates successfully pushed county legislation to maintain open space along approach and departure paths.
Rodenhauser looks back fondly on his career, especially the early years ferrying new Mooneys from the company's factory in Kerrville, Texas, with his father. And he's still the optimist he was when he decided, as a teenager, to devote his life to small airplanes. But he knows his future depends not just on his business acumen and passion for flying. It depends, more than ever, on events and government decisions beyond his control.
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