Many of the decision makers in Maryland’s general aviation industry recently acted on a group decision: that it was time, as explained by Michael Wassel, “to set up a bigger tent.”

The old tent “was too small,” said Wassel, the manager of Fort Meade’s Tipton Airport, which belonged to the defunct Maryland Airport Managers Association, “because it only consisted of the 35 public use airports in the state” then.

Those decision makers are beefing up the ranks with the founding of the Maryland Aviation Council.

The MAC consists of the former MAMA members but is also open to any organization that supports aviation. That means firms, like Signature Flight Support, Maryland Air and Ryder Jet Center; maintenance companies; engineering firms, flight schools, mechanics, museums and others can join.

In addition, corporate entities like Northrop Grumman Corp. or Lockheed Martin are encouraged to join. “We’re looking to market to any organization with a connection to our common interests,” said Wassel. “Pilots and other individuals and students are welcome, too. We’ve also hired a lobbyist to connect us in Annapolis and we have our Legislation Day set for March 22.”

Leaving silos

Making the effort to expand is more important than ever, with the closings of Freeway Airport in Bowie, which was sold to St. John Properties; and Washington Executive Airpark (also known as Hyde Field), also in Prince George’s County; and simply because many a real estate developer has spied their vast acreage in a region with little available land.

Wassel said, he’s unaware of any more pending closures. “General aviation airports are important to the market, notably to keep the small aircraft out of the commercial space. It gives pilots and operators an infrastructure.”

Micah Risher, MAC president and manager of the Easton Airport, also sees the establishment of the MAC as an opportunity to heighten the industry’s impact.

“Good things are happening in aviation,” he said, noting the Aviation Science program at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and a career education program at the Easton Airport “to introduce students to various jobs, including working with drones.”

While that’s positive news, such moves haven’t been heralded in the business world. They have generally “occurred in silos, so we’re promoting them to help our elected officials understand the value of our industry,” Risher said. “General aviation airports don’t have the impact of BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, but they’re important, too.”

$1.1 billion

Perhaps the best way to relate their importance is by discussing the dollars they generate. A December 2018 Maryland Aviation Administration study revealed an overall economic impact of $1.1 billion, with Tipton’s estimate at $23 million and Easton’s reaching $48 million. “Based on that number, I’d say we’re around $60 million now,” he said. “We’re as busy as we’ve been in our 80-year existence.” 

Risher also offered this example: “pre-COVID-19, a good year for jet fuel sales was 700,000 gallons. But we sold more than 1 million gallons in 2022 and sales this year are up 3%. That means people are visiting Talbot County and spending money on food, lodging, … maybe even buying homes here.

With statewide expansion efforts firmly underway, the MAC is preparing for its annual convention (a holdover MAMA event) on June 7-9 at the Princess Royale Hotel, in Ocean City, hoping to gain traction and emulate the success of other state industry groups, like those in Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

And that can’t happen soon enough. “If you look at what other states have done,” said Risher, “it’s amazing that we never took the steps to expand our association.”