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Washington Executive Airport-Hyde Field closed

Airfield struggled since 9/11

Washington Executive Airport, also known as Hyde Field, never really recovered from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The final day for aircraft owners and businesses to clear out was November 30, under a bankruptcy court ruling.

The exodus followed two decades of uncertainty about the future of the airport, one of the Maryland Three where special security procedures have been in place since 2002. In early 2020, airport owners filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, after which it was clear to the Hyde Field community that a sale or closure of the airport was imminent.

The closure of Hyde Field leaves two general aviation airports in the Washington, D.C., flight restricted zone (FRZ): Potomac Airfield and College Park Airport. The proximity of these airports to the capital requires pilots to complete the Washington D.C. Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) course; apply for a personal identification number; and obtain a background check and provide fingerprints to a Maryland Three airport security representative.

The complicated arrival procedures at these airports deter many pilots from attempting to enter the FRZ for fear of violating the SFRA/FRZ boundaries, resulting in financial challenges brought on by lack of traffic.

The toll this has taken on Hyde Field is evident. Empty hangars are covered with overgrown foliage, and the airport's only runway, 5/23, is a discouraging sight with grass poking through the pavement.

Final word from the bankruptcy lawyer arrived in October that all tenants must vacate the premises within 30 days. The property was expected to sell for around $7.5 million as of mid-November, with plans to use the land for mixed-use redevelopment.

Washington Executive/Hyde Field Airport Manager Stan Fetter explains how the closure of the airport will affect pilots. Photo by David Tulis."I'm sad to see it happen," said Airport Manager Stan Fetter regarding the announcement. "In a lot of ways it's a waste of a public resource. The place is 15 minutes from MGM National Harbor, it's 10 minutes from [Joint Base] Andrews. Unless it's rush hour, you can be on Capitol Hill in 25 minutes."

Fetter also highlighted the loss of the airfield as an emergency response base. "You're losing a resource. I mean, there's a lot of stuff that goes away and people don't realize it," he said.

However, there is a reluctant relief that seems to accompany the sorrow. "We've been going through this a long time," Fetter said. "The good news is, if you want to call it that, is we have an actual wind up and end date."

Despite the yearslong buildup to a potential closure, tenants were caught off-guard by the news they had a month to clear out.

Clinton Aero Maintenance, Hyde Field's maintenance shop and the only maintenance facility within the FRZ, has been owned by Dan Fragassi since 1978.

As the November 30 closure date set by the bankruptcy court approached, Fragassi was working with just one other contractor to try and wrap up the projects in the shop. "I've got three [aircraft] that I can finish in pretty short order," Fragassi said. "The other two, they're going to have to be disassembled and moved."

Photo by David Tulis.After 40-plus years as the go-to shop on Hyde Field, Clinton Aero Maintenance has accumulated a significant volume of tools, machinery, and aircraft parts, all of which will need to be relocated—a near-impossible task to complete in 30 days according to Fragassi.

Fragassi's unique position as the only shop on the field has granted him some lenience from the new owners, who promised to work with him to make arrangements for the move, though it was not immediately clear what that would mean.

Perhaps the biggest concern surrounding the closure, especially with such short notice, was the fate of the aircraft based at the field. At the time of the announcement, around 30 aircraft were stored on the field, and owners were left with little time to evacuate—some with decades of accumulated property—and find tiedowns or join a waiting list for a hangar amid an ongoing, nationwide shortage of space.

Tiedowns were available at neighboring Virginia and Maryland airports, but aircraft owners interested in hangar space would need to seek out options farther away, join a waiting list, or wait for new infrastructure to be built.

One such aircraft owner on the field, Mark Buchner, spoke about the relocation challenges. "For me it wasn't a problem," he said. "I was there 18 years, but…a few people…have been here longer. Some of those hangars out there, you can't move the airplane out because it's packed full of stuff."

Pilots participating in Maryland’s general aviation flight passport program were anxious to get their booklets stamped before Washington Executive/Hyde Field closed. Photo by David Tulis.Currently, Buchner's aircraft is tied down at a nearby airport, he is having trouble finding a hangar that can shelter his Cessna 150 from the elements, along with storage for his belongings.

He's joined waitlists for hangars at nearby Maryland Airport, Stafford Regional Airport, and Shannon Airport, all of which have indicated their waitlists are at least a year long, while they work to build new hangars.

"Other than that, there's no place else to go," Buchner sighed.

AOPA Eastern Regional Manager Sean Collins echoed the concerns of tenants: "There simply are not enough hangars at other airports to accommodate those who are already in hangars and expected to be displaced," Collins said. "While the loss of Hyde is unfortunate, it highlights and exacerbates the industry's hangar needs as we head into the snow season."

  • Photo by David Tulis.
  • A Cessna 210 was among dozens of aircraft forced to move to another airport before Hyde Field closes November 30. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Introductory flight lessons cost $30 when this sign was installed at Washington Executive/Hyde Field. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Airport signs were discarded as tenants prepared to vacate Hyde Field. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Model aircraft including a Lockheed P–38 Lightning put together by Theo Fetter, the son of Washington Executive/Hyde Field Airport Manager Stan Fetter, are displayed in the office. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Washington Executive/Hyde Field inside the Washington, D.C., flight restricted zone was expected to close November 30. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Spectators line the runway at Washington Executive/Hyde Field in an archival photo on display at the Hyde Field FBO in November. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Joe Smokovitz and Greg Gorecki clean out a hangar housing an Ercoupe, a Stinson, and other aviation parts and memorabilia. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Avionics from another era share shelf space with dinner plates in a hangar at Washington Executive/Hyde Field. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Foliage encroaches on an empty hangar. Photo by David Tulis.
  • A hole in the exterior wall frames an empty hangar at Washington Executive/Hyde Field days before the airport was to close on November 30. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Trees and shrubbery nearly conceal an empty hangar. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Washington Executive/Hyde Field Airport Manager Stan Fetter, left, helps a pilot at the airport inside the Washington, D.C., flight restricted zone November 22 . The airfield has for decades been one of the ‘Maryland Three’ airports where special security procedures remain in place. It was expected to close November 30 and be redeveloped. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Metal hangars on the grounds of Washington Executive/Hyde Field. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Runway 5/23 climbs in both directions toward the center at Washington Executive/Hyde Field, posing operational challenges for pilots unfamiliar with the privately owned, public-use airfield. Photo by David Tulis.

Lillian Geil

Digital Media Assistant Editor
Digital Media Assistant Editor Lillian Geil is a student pilot and a graduate of Columbia University who joined AOPA in 2021.
Topics: Airport

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