Six miles south of Palm Beach International Airport is the sleepy Palm Beach County Park Airport. Like many airports across the country, it mainly serves general aviation and does not have a FAA tower. The airport sees an average of 350 arrivals and departures per day, with numbers increasing during the peak winter months.
On site are 28 businesses, which employ 200 full-time employees and have an economic impact of about $27 million each year. However, for the past three weekends, the airport has been quiet. No airplanes have flown in or out of the airport and the businesses have been suffering.
Six miles northwest of Palm Beach County Park Airport sits Mar-a-Largo. The resort in Palm Beach is owned by Donald Trump who has spent the past three weekends at the resort.
With each visit, there has been a TFR (temporary flight restriction), which are issued by the FAA for VIP movements, and restrictions vary for each one issued. For the particular TFRs associated with President Trump’s visits, there are two cones with different rules.
The first is the outer cone, stretching out in a 30 nautical mile radius from Mar-a-Largo. Flights are allowed to pass through to takeoff and land in airports in this ring with a flight plan and ATC permission. The inner cone encompasses a 10 nautical mile radius from Mar-a-Largo. The only flights allowed are scheduled flights, air ambulance flights, or charter flights that have been screened and follow certain guidelines. These flights also must originate or arrive at Palm Beach International Airport. This means that while the TFR is active, no flights can land or takeoff at the Palm Beach County Park Airport.
This has proven to be a drain on the businesses at the airport. A helicopter company is already relocating their business instead of dealing with the continued nuisance.
In addition, a local flight school has lost $46,000 over the past three weekends, including $18,000 during President’s Day weekend. The owner has also lost three students and her instructors are losing pay. The owner fears she may have to close her 19-year-old business if this trend continues.
A local aircraft maintenance facility, which currently makes $2 million annually, has seen losses over the past months and fears further losses if the flight school were to close. The local banner company has lost $42,500 from four contracts due to Trump’s visits.
In most cases, the TFRs have also been issued on a short-term basis. The latest one for the Palm Beach area was issued last Wednesday, a mere 48 hours before it became active.
Business owners are asking for some relief. They are seeking to allow flights at the airport even if it means screening each pilot and aircraft. Local congresswoman Lois Frankel met with business owners last week and will meet with the Secret Service to find a compromise to allow Palm Beach County Park Airport to stay open during the TFRs.
While local business owners hold their breath, the disruptions are likely to continue. This past weekend marked the third consecutive weekend of a TFR over Palm Beach and this trend is unlikely to cease leading to the question of whether the airport can continue to operate if nothing changes.