Trump’s Visits Ground Business at Small New Jersey Airports

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HANOVER, N.J. — More than the sound of Cessnas and private jets at Morristown Municipal Airport this week was the buzz over the impending arrival of President Trump, who would be flying in for another weekend stay at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., where he spends time in the summer.

Airport regulars — from flight instructors to mechanics to amateur pilots — said they expected the usual lockdown of the runway during the president’s arrival and departure, and flying restrictions for the full duration of his stay.

While it may not compare to the larger controversies of the Trump presidency, the president’s visits to Bedminster have upset the aviation world in New Jersey, one of the busiest clusters of local airports in the country.

Each time the president visits Bedminster, the federal authorities implement temporary flight restrictions, or T.F.R.s, which create a no-fly zone within a 10-mile radius of the golf course during his stay.

The restrictions ground flights at the two privately owned Solberg and Somerset Airports closest to the golf course. Looser regulations restrict air traffic within a 30-mile radius, affecting nearly 20 more airports and the dozens of related businesses and aeronautical services from aircraft parking and rentals to flight training, fuel sales and maintenance.

With the visits coming in the summertime — peak season for small airports — the restrictions have crippled aviation businesses and may force some to fold unless changes are made, airport owners said, adding that the federal authorities have been unwilling to work with them and ease some restrictions choking their businesses.

“It’s been devastating,” said Bill Fritsche, who said he was facing tens of thousands of dollars in lost fuel sales and other business at the 100-plane Alexandria Field Airport that he co-owns in Pittstown, N.J., a roughly 13-mile flight from the golf club.

His airport is one of about 20 within a 30-mile radius. Pilots may use the runways at the smaller airports, but they must employ an extra level of communication with air traffic controllers. They must also file a flight plan for each trip, proceed directly out of the restricted area without lingering, and may not conduct flight training there.

“A lot of pilots won’t go through the trouble to get clearance,” Mr. Fritsche said. “I understand the need for security, but I wish someone at the Secret Service would take a look at this and see that we pose no threat to the president. There’s no way any of this is a security risk.”

Chuck Owen, co-owner of Skydive Jersey, based at Alexandria Field, said his sky diving charters have been greatly reduced by the flight restrictions banning sky diving or balloon flights within the 30-mile radius.

Going into last summer, he said, he was handling 140 customers per day during weekends with the help of a 14-seat plane. Since the presidential restrictions last summer, his company has defaulted on the plane’s lease.

“We lost more than $800,000 in revenue last year because of this,” he said, citing sky diving and instructional flights canceled because of restrictions imposed on short notice. “We’ve had to reschedule entire weekends.”

Finding other sky diving locations is difficult, he said. “We’re up in the air as to whether it’s worth our trouble to keep going.”

He said he and Mr. Fritsche presented a lengthy report last year to the Secret Service, claiming the sky diving operation posed no security threat and offering various measures, including vetting pilots and instructors. Secret Service officials declined.

“They haven’t given us any chance,” Mr. Fritsche said. “Their attitude is: Everyone must defer to us, that they own the sky and we’re not entitled to use it at all.”

Mr. Fritsche, who was a politically active Republican and a Trump supporter, said, “I’m sure that if the president was aware of the impact, and that there was a solution, he’d negotiate a way we could all survive.”

A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman referred questions to the Secret Service.

Shawn L. Holtzclaw, a spokesman for the Secret Service, said in a statement that, “In collaboration with the F.A.A. and other partners, the Secret Service structures temporary flight restrictions to provide a balance between commercial aviation, general aviation, public access and security.

“The primary responsibility of the Secret Service is to provide a safe environment for the President,” the statement said. “Regardless of location, establishing T.F.R.s will present the unique challenge of achieving our stated goal of balancing security with access.”

Flight restrictions at smaller airports involves no real partisan bickering, since flight restrictions have been implemented wherever presidents fly.

“This is a nonpartisan issue, but the other presidents, they were flying into more remote places,” said Frank Steinberg, vice chairman of the New Jersey Aviation Association. “This is smack in the middle of the most densely populated state in the country and the busiest airspace in the world. You have nearly two dozen airports directly affected by these T.F.R.s.”

Presidential visits affected restrictions for roughly 40 days last summer, Mr. Steinberg said. The president has spent several weekends already this summer in Bedminster and seems certain to spend more in July and August, but the F.A.A. usually only announces the flight restrictions a day or two in advance, he said.

“Nobody wants to put this president or any president in danger — that’s not what this is about. But I think the protocols could be more flexible without sacrificing security,” said Mr. Steinberg, a pilot who keeps his plane at Somerset and has been inconvenienced by the restrictions.

He said many of the local airports are family owned for generations on modest profit margins, “and now they’re looking at a significant net loss” because of the flight restrictions.

The summer months for Somerset and other small airports are as crucial as the winter holiday is for toy stores, said Steven Parker, a co-owner of Somerset Airport, the closest airport to Mr. Trump’s golf club.

Mr. Parker, a Republican, said he was reluctant to speak about the issue because he also serves as the mayor of Bedminster and would risk his comments on the flight restrictions being turned into political fodder.

He did note that large commercial flights routinely fly routes over Bedminster because they have been screened and designated as not a threat. He said he would like to see local pilots undergo federal background checks and be vetted and prescreened to fly at small airports during the Bedminster flight restrictions, he said. This is already being done at several small airports in the D.C.-area that are subject to recurring presidential flight restrictions, he said.

Representative Leonard J. Lance, a Republican whose district includes Bedminster, has helped sponsor two provisions in a pending bill that would require the F.A.A. to examine and mitigate the economic effects of the flight restrictions on airports and related businesses around Bedminster and around Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida, and to make $3.5 million available in reimbursements.

Suzanne Solberg Nagle, a co-owner of Solberg Airport near Bedminster, addressed the restrictions in a statement that called each restriction “a black cloud” that caused cumulative revenue losses that “will not be known for years to come.”

“Who wants to operate out of an airport if you never know when it will be open or closed?” Ms. Nagle wrote, regarding the short notice of restrictions. “What flight student will want to learn how to fly out of an airport if he or she can be grounded for several weekends during the prime-time weather season?”

Thomas Gomez, operations manager of the Essex County Airport, which lies within the 30-mile radius, called the flight restrictions and the Secret Service easy to work with, “as long as you express what you want to do, and when you want to do it.”

“People are politicizing it into a negative issue, but this has been the case with every president — Obama, Clinton, Bush, everybody,” said Mr. Gomez, a retired Air Force pilot. “If Congress wants to change the rules and let people fly wherever they want, that’s different. But for now, the rules are there for a reason.”

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