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Florida lawmakers worried by Lantana flight restrictionsFlorida lawmakers worried by Lantana flight restrictions

AOPA advocating to lessen GA burden

Editor's note: This article was updated with additional information after an Iowa town hall meeting April 18.

A Florida congresswoman concerned about the escalating cost for President Donald Trump’s weekend excursions to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach suggested in a letter that he “lead by example” and either curtail the journeys or reimburse local officials for their economic losses. Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Boca Raton) wrote a letter to the president March 23 requesting economic relief to alleviate “the financial burden being shouldered by Palm Beach County, the City of West Palm Beach, and Palm Beach County businesses.”

Sectional depicting Palm Beach County Park Airport, locally known as Lantana Airport. Image courtesy of Sky Vector.

Frankel cited the nearly constant shutdown of Palm Beach County Park Airport, also known as Lantana Airport, as a costly effect on weekends when the president is in town. The airport is “an integral part of South Florida’s local economy,” said Frankel. It is home to 270 airplanes, 200 average daily flights, 250 jobs, and 25 small businesses. The facility’s economic engine drives $9 million in payroll and “has a total economic output of almost $27 million each year,” Frankel wrote.

The letter also was signed by Democratic Reps. Alcee Hastings and Ted Deutch, and noted that the president’s visits to his south Florida retreat “incurred significant costs” to local law enforcement departments for security without additional compensation. She estimated that a recent visit by the Chinese delegation added another $280,000 to the already more than $1.7 million in overtime and additional expenses shouldered by the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Department and Fire Rescue personnel.

Trump’s frequent trips to Mar-a-Lago have also been raising concerns in the GOP. The subject came up in at least two town hall meetings April 18. 

The Washington Post reported that Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) told constituents in Wall Lake, Iowa, that the president’s trips to his Florida retreat have been “bothering not just me but some other members of our caucus.” She added, “I do wish he would spend more time in Washington, D.C.”

“I don't think that going down to Mar-a-Lago — or whatever it is called — is proper,” Rep. Steve Knight (R-Calif.) said at his crowded Semi Valley, California, event.

Trump has made seven weekend trips to Mar-a-Lago since he took office in January, often conducting domestic business and foreign affairs such as the visits of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping while at the “winter White House.”

Comstock suggested that Camp David “would be a better weekend retreat and save the taxpayers money,” referring to the official presidential retreat in Maryland that is outfitted to secure the commander in chief and his visitors.

Lantana Airport is located within the presidential flight restriction's 10-nautical-mile-radius inner no-fly zone. When Trump visits, no flights can enter or leave the inner ring without TSA screening, and other flight restrictions are in effect within a 30-nm-radius outer ring, which directly affects scores of flight training, sightseeing, and other aviation operations.

Richard Dragonette, a flight instructor at Palm Beach Flight Training school at Lantana Airport, says the school has  been impacted by the restrictions due to President Trump's Mar-a-Lago visits. Courtesy of Carline Jean, Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.

Stellar Aviation, which manages the Lantana Airport, “loses an estimated $30,000 per each weekend visit,” according to Frankel. The company has weathered seven presidential visits since November and was hit hard when a helicopter company affected by the near-constant visits moved to another airport, taking another $440,000 from the bottom line.

Additionally, flight schools, an aerial advertising company, and sightseeing have suffered income declines with a grand total of “a staggering $720,000 to date,” Frankel wrote in March.

AOPA began dialogue with the Trump transition team in December when AOPA President Mark Baker sent a letter requesting the incoming administration consider local economies and jobs when implementing TFRs.

The association continues to discuss with various government agencies the economic and mobility issues affecting general aviation in the region, said Nobuyo Sakata, AOPA director of aviation security.

AOPA has strenuously advocated for the establishment of special departure procedures at Lantana Airport that would permit limited operations based on the use of security screening gateway operations  and, if it is necessary, additional security procedures similar to those that have been in effect for several years at airports within the Washington, D.C., Flight Restricted Zone and Special Flight Rules Area. It’s preferable for pilots to avoid intensive security, Sakata said, “but we are willing to do this if it’s the only option.”

The association awaits a response to a February letter sent to Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, said Sakata, and continues to work with congressional delegations.

AOPA has continued pushing for solutions to the flight restrictions affecting a large portion of aviation-active south Florida that would accommodate security concerns yet still allow a robust use of GA.

“AOPA stands ready to work with the FAA and TSA to implement departure procedures if and when it’s available,” said Sakata. “AOPA and the people at Lantana haven’t given up.”

Jorge Gonzalez, of Skywords Advertising, is seen with his Piper Super Cub at the hangar he rents at Lantana Airport. Gonzalez said during a meeting with U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel that he might have to shutter his business if President Trump continues to visit Palm Beach and close the airspace on weekends. Courtesy of Joe Cavaretta, Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.
David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a seaplane-rated private pilot who enjoys vintage aircraft, aerobatic flying, and photography.
Topics: Advocacy, Temporary Flight Restriction, Security

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