The economic impact of security shutdowns of the general aviation airport near President Donald Trump’s Florida estate seemed likely to escalate as a new temporary flight restriction (TFR) was set to take effect from March 17 to 19 in the Palm Beach area.
Both before and since Trump took office in January, he has made several weekend trips to Mar-a-Lago, and AOPA has strenuously advocated for the establishment of security measures at Lantana Airport that would permit limited operations based on the use of airspace gateways for access and egress, and security screening techniques 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.
With the economic impact of the shutdowns at Lantana Airport taking a heavy toll in business losses, AOPA in February requested a meeting with officials to mitigate the harm to area aviation businesses—a story that has attracted widespread news coverage outside the aviation sector.
At that session, officials expressed interest in making security provisions for a resumption of airport operations during TFRs but said they lacked authority to proceed, said Nobuyo Sakata, AOPA director of aviation security.
But at a closed-doors meeting in early March between local stakeholders and federal elected officials, security officials told business operators that takeoffs from the airport could not be permitted during a TFR, according to news reports.
The efforts continued on March 15, when AOPA Southern Regional Manager Steve Hedges attended a meeting of the Palm Beach County Airport Advisory Board, at which he summarized AOPA's advocacy efforts and described his personal experience as a pilot who has flown from Maryland’s College Park Airport, one of the fields that was placed under heavy restrictions in the Washington, D.C., area.
Hedges also discussed how a special maneuvering area keeps traffic flowing at Virginia’s Leesburg Executive Airport just inside the northwestern boundary of the Washington, D.C., Special Flight Rules Area. His discussion of the security measures was reported in a local news account of the meeting.
Hedges noted that Lantana officials see one note of optimism as they await the imminent receipt of bids in response to a request for proposals the airport issued, prior to the TFR controversy, for security improvements.
Work on improvements could begin soon, perhaps giving federal security officials an incentive to consider other mitigations at Lantana Airport, they told him.
Local law enforcement is also on board, Hedges said, citing an offer from the county sheriff to post a deputy at the airport. The U.S. Army is also in the process of setting up a mobile radar installation “to pick up traffic from the south during TFRs,” he said.
The airport advisory authority voted to forward a resolution to the county commissioners recommending that the county continue to fight to keep Lantana open, and to persist until some solution is found.
AOPA also is continuing to press for operations to be allowed to resume at the airport, where the economic toll now includes at least one flight training contract worth $400,000 being lost as the contractor relocated the operation to an airport in Alabama, Hedges said.