Cumberland Times-News

December 23, 2013

Airport drivers support community

To the Editor:
Cumberland Times-News

— I write to join those who have expressed surprise and regret over the decision of the Potomac Highlands Airport Authority to close Cumberland Airport to the autocross events that have been held there for the last 10 years.

As others have noted, those events keep alive Cumberland Airport’s historic legacy as a key venue during the Golden Age of amateur sports car road racing in the 1960s and ’70s. Autocrossing, in which cars negotiate a course laid out with traffic cones, one at a time, at low speeds, for time, is a far more sedate and safer game than the thrilling wheel to wheel racing that brought crowds in the tens of thousands back in the day.

Still, the events bring many families out to watch on nice weekends, and they connect the community to Cumberland’s racing heritage.

I am one of the “come here” drivers who makes the trek up to your beautiful city regularly to participate in the autocrosses at the airport over the past 10 years.

Each trip, I pay entry fees (most of which undoubtedly come back to the airport) book a hotel room for two nights, eat and drink in Cumberland’s fine restaurants and taverns, and purchase gas and other amenities.

I am but one of many such drivers. When we head back over mountains on Sundays after the race, our hearts, and our wallets, are always quite a bit lighter than when we came to town.

The National Road Autosport airport autocross series supports the community in other ways I have not heard mentioned.

Each year, on Saturday night during the June event, there is a charity auction, which generally raises thousands of dollars for local causes.

In the past these have included a civil aviation scholarship for area youths, and a local museum. Each event, the local Lions Club does a “land office business” running a concession stand, selling food and soft drinks to hungry and thirsty drivers, workers, and spectators.

The events in no way interfere with airport operations. First, they are only held for two days a month between May and October. Second, movement of aircraft takes priority at all times.

When aircraft need to taxi, land or take off, the event is shut down in a matter of seconds. Because the airport has had no scheduled service for years, the events make productive, revenue-producing use of facilities that otherwise lie dormant much of the time.

PHAA’s stated reason why all this must end — concern over loss of FAA grant funding — is perplexing. Airport operators accepting FAA grant funds must comply with certain standard Grant Assurances, some of which deal with use of grant funded property.

But, according to FAA Order 5190.6B (Airport Compliance Manual), Chapter 22.5, airport property may concurrently “be used for a compatible nonaviation purpose while at the same time serving the primary purpose for which it was acquired,” at fair market rent, which is considered airport revenue, with FAA approval.

I do not understand that such approval has been revoked.

In these dark days of intergovernmental gridlock and dysfunction, the CBE autocrosses have stood as shining example of how federal and local authorities can maximize shared use of underutilized facilities, for the benefit of the entire community.

 It would be a shame if, on a few spring and summer weekends, CBE would no longer hear the sweet song of lovingly tuned motors, of Cobras dueling Corvettes, and the babble of excited competitors and spectators. In many ways, Cumberland, and we visitors, would all be poorer for it.

Ben Lambiotte

Washington, D.C.