Bumped by Trump
President’s visits putting big dent in small airports’ business
Thor Solberg’s business is down - try practically nonexistent - at a time when it’s usually way up, and he has President Donald Trump to thank for it.
Solberg’s is one of two small airports in western New Jersey that are essentially closed down because of federal aviation regulations because they are within 10 miles (16 kilometres) of where Trump is spending 17 days this month at his Bedminster country club. More than a dozen other airports also face restrictions.
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 Monday. Normally 70 to 80 planes would be paying to be housed there and paying for fuel and flight training time, Solberg said.
“Twenty per cent 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,” Solberg said.
Small airports and aviationrelated 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.
That proved unsuccessful for the owners of a small Florida airport that lies within the no-fly zone near Trump’s Mara-Lago resort. In March, the Secret Service told the tenants of Lantana Airport that aircraft couldn’t take off from the facility, which is about 6 miles (10 kilometres) southwest of Mara-Lago.
The 28 businesses at the airport include a flight school and banner operation. They said they were losing thousands of dollars each time Trump visited.
Jonathan Miller, the contractor who operates the airport, told The Associated Press earlier this year that a helicopter company opted to move elsewhere rather than deal with the airport closures, taking an estimated $440,000 in annual rent and fuel payments with it.
Michelle Edwards, office manager at Palm Beach Flight Training at Lantana, said it was especially stressful in the spring when Trump’s visits closed the airport for three straight weekends, usually with about two days’ notice.
“We have customers, their first question when they call is, ‘Am I even going to be able to train there because of President Trump coming down so much?”’ Edwards said. “So, we have customers leaving, going elsewhere and not even starting with us because they’re nervous about President Trump coming in.”
Solberg echoed Edwards’ concerns about the potentially long-lasting effects of the disruption.
“It’s not just the current revenue that’s a problem,” he said, noting the airport is losing “tens of thousands of dollars” this month. “It’s the fact that we’re unable to get continuous new business because we’re unable to provide potential customers with a service that they can rely on.”
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 has been no response, Republican Rep. Leonard Lance said Monday. A Secret Service spokeswoman didn’t return an email seeking comment.
“We want New Jersey to be treated as, apparently, Maryland is treated,” Lance said. “I’m hopeful the Secret Service will examine the situation based on past precedents.”
“We have customers, their first question when they call is, ‘Am I even going to be able to train there because of President Trump coming down so much? So, we have customers leaving, going elsewhere and not even starting with us because they’re nervous about President Trump coming in.”
Michelle Edwards, Palm Beach Flight Training
In this Monday photo, Thor Solberg talks with reporters at Solberg-Hunterdon Airport, the airport he partially owns, in Whitehouse Station, N.J.