Trump in Palm Beach: Officials push to ease restrictions on airport


Members of Palm Beach County’s airport advisory board on Wednesday said they would continue to push federal officials to ease flight restrictions at the Lantana airport in the wake of President Donald Trump’s frequent visits to the area.

County Airports Director Bruce Pelly said officials with the U.S. Secret Service made it clear during a meeting this month that the restrictions were not negotiable, but he told members of the county’s Airports and Aviation Advisory Board there may still be room for adjustments as federal agents become more familiar with the area.

RELATED: Lantana airport fix difficult, PBC commissioner says

Flight restrictions have seriously impeded operations at the facility on the four weekends Trump has come to town since early February. Business owners at the airport say they’re losing as much as a combined $15,000 a day every weekend when the president visits Mar-a-Lago, which he has called the southern White House.

“I think there has been clear indication from the very beginning that over time flexibility comes into the picture when they get more comfortable and understand what is going on and get less and less violations during his visits here,” Pelly said. “We still have an opportunity to get that facility open in some form or fashion when he is here.”

Steve Hedges, a regional manager for the AOPA, which represents 350,000 private pilots and airplane owners nationwide, 25,836 of those in Florida, said similar exceptions were made at three other airports in the Washington, D.C.-area that faced similar hardships because of flight restrictions after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“This can take months, but it can be done,” Hedges said.

Although Trump’s visits are likely to slow during the warmer summer months, Pelly said it is important for local pilots to to push for changes to the restrictions.

During Trump’s visits, federal aviation officials create a ring of 10 nautical miles above Mar-a-Lago, within which pilots of all private planes are barred from landing at either Palm Beach International Airport or Lantana unless they came from a “gateway airport” where they were screened by the Transportation Safety Administration. Any planes that land at Lantana can’t leave until Trump is gone.

At Lantana, the restrictions ban all flight training, practice approaches, parachuting, and flights of aerobatic aircraft, gliders, seaplanes, ultralights, gliders and hang-gliders, balloons, and even crop-dusters. Also banned: banner-towing and sightseeing, maintenance test flights, model rockets and aircraft, utility and pipeline surveys and drones.

The repeated violations of flight restrictions by private aircraft drew international attention after a sonic boom rattled Palm Beach and Broward counties soon after Trump’s arrival in Palm Beach on Feb. 17. Two F-15 fighter jets had to hit supersonic speeds to shoo away a plane that entered the restricted airspace and whose pilot was not responding to orders to leave.

On Trump’s first three visits to Palm Beach County as president, at least 27 pilots violated that restricted airspace, the FAA has said: 10 on Feb. 3-5, three on Feb. 10-12, and 14 on Feb. 17-20.

Pelly said it is critical for pilots to obey the restrictions.

“That didn’t help us at all,” Pelly said.



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