St. Marys Airport Closes Indefinitely

FAA Grants Navy Request, Restricts Airspace Near Sub Base

ST. MARYS, Fla. - With the aviation industry still reeling from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the small airport at St. Marys may have to close for good.

The St. Marys Airport, which rents hangars to 27 small planes, is located about one mile from the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, home port to ten Trident nuclear submarines.

Federal officials said that that's too close to ensure base security and have restricted flights near the base indefinitely, effectively shutting down the airport's two runways.

"It's the Navy's intent to keep this airport permanently closed," Jeff Stanford said. Stanford signed a 25-year lease with the city last year to run the airport.

Stanford said he's had to lay off his staff -- a full-time assistant and four part-time workers.

"I can't afford to dry up a month at a time until I'm permanently closed," he said.

The privately owned single and twin-engine planes at the airport have been grounded since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Officials said that pilots will be allowed to take off Saturday between 7 and 11 a.m. and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. to move their planes, but only after they've been inspected by local police.

"We have to do everything we can to possibly reduce a threat," Cmdr. Terry Evans, a base spokesman, said. Having an airport adjacent to the base is simply a risk we're not going to take. This eliminates one potential threat."

Christopher White, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman in Atlanta, said that the St. Marys airport has to close because the Department of Defense has restricted all aircraft flying lower than 5,000 feet within five miles of the base.

White said that St. Marys is the only airport in the FAA's Southern region of eight states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands that remains closed.

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Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.