Braden Airpark won’t be seeing a boost in business, after the Secret Service denied an exemption from airspace restrictions around President Donald Trump’s New Jersey golf club.
Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, Somerset County, is at the center of a 30-nautical-mile-radius Temporary Flight Restrictions, or TFR, zone. It’s enforced by the Secret Service as a means of protecting the commander in chief.
The current TFR expires at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, once Trump returns to the White House following a 17-day stay at his club.
Within the first 10 nautical miles, all aircraft operations are prohibited except approved law enforcement, military, med-evac and commercial passenger and cargo flights, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
The restrictions ease up a bit on the so-called outer ring, an area that encompasses Braden in Forks Township.
But even there, activities from flight training to glider operations to banner-towing and flying drones are prohibited. Braden pilots can still fly, provided they file a flight plan, remain in contact with air traffic control and are “squawking the discrete code prior to departure and at all times while in the TFR,” according to the FAA.
“If they’re following those three points, they’re good to go,” said Thomas Stoudt, interim executive director at the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority that owns Braden.
Authority spokesman Colin Riccobon added: “Braden pilots can still fly. No one is grounded.”
But because Braden is toward the edge of the TFR, about 5 or some nautical miles within the 30-nautical-mile radius, the airport authority applied to the Secret Service to have the airpark cut out of the TFR entirely. The idea was that it could pick up business from fuel sales and fees from general aviation pilots and flight schools that are grounded closer to Bedminster.
The Secret Service said no, authority officials said Friday.
“It effectively just doesn’t provide Secret Service the reaction time they needed,” Stoudt said of the cutout. “It would significantly reduce the reaction time that they would need just to ensure that the president would be protected from airborne threats.”
The temporary closure rules are not unique to Trump’s vacations, The Associated Press reports. Similar flight restrictions for presidential visits have been in place for decades, and were expanded after the 9/11 attacks, affecting local airports during visits from Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
The Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority’s other facilities, Queen City Airport in Allentown and Lehigh Valley International Airport in Hanover Township, Lehigh County, are both outside the TFR. That opens up possibilities for Braden-based pilots in training to get their air work in over those airports without violating the TFR — even without the cutout.
Other small airports in the area have been more significantly affected. Even the Warren County Farmers’ Fair and QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning had to get the Secret Service’s OK for hot air balloon launches earlier in August during Trump’s visit.
Solberg-Hunterdon Airport in Readington Township, Hunterdon County, is within that 10-nautical-mile radius, meaning it’s essentially closed down when Trump is in Bedminster, according to the AP. Blairstown Airport is also affected.
This is high season for small airports that cater to amateur fliers and business clients. But at Solberg-Hunterdon Airport, which averages about 100 combined takeoffs and landings per day, a handful of planes sat idle on a Monday earlier this month. Normally 70 to 80 planes would be paying to be housed there and paying for fuel and flight training time, owner Thor Solberg said.
“Twenty percent of our annual business is affected by the president’s visits in the summertime because that’s how much of our business takes place on the weekends in the summertime,” he said.
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Small airports and aviation-related businesses near Trump’s properties in Florida and New Jersey have lost out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in business already this year. And they have no recourse other than to appeal to the Secret Service, which oversees presidential security.
Several members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation sent a letter to the Secret Service in June urging it to consider allowing the airports near Trump’s residence to use a system similar to one in place near Washington, D.C., that allows properly screened pilots to fly to and from airports in a security-sensitive area.
So far there’s been no response, the offices of U.S. Reps. Leonard Lance and Josh Gottheimer said Friday. Lance is a Republican whose 7th Congressional District covers Hunterdon and southern Warren counties. Gottheimer is a Democrat whose 5th District covers the rest of Warren.
“We want New Jersey to be treated as, apparently, Maryland is treated,” Lance told the AP earlier this month. “I’m hopeful the Secret Service will examine the situation based on past precedents.”
It’s not an issue that’s going to go away while Trump’s president, Braden pilot Bob Kutzler told the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority Board of Governors earlier this month.
“He’s coming up like every second weekend, so every second weekend these airports are going to be grounded,” Kutzler said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Kurt Bresswein may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KurtBresswein. Find lehighvalleylive.com on Facebook.