MOULTRIE -- After a week of banning private aircraft from flight, Moultrie's air transportation-related businesses are feeling the wave of terrorism eroding their profits.
Each week down translates into $300,000 in revenues lost, said Brent Maule, sales manager of small aircraft manufacturer Maule Air, Inc.
The Federal Aviation Administration approved resumption of general aviation instrument flight rules (IFR) flights Friday, but flights under visual flight rules (VFR) have not been authorized, with the exception of agricultural aviation flights (crop dusters), according to the National Air Transportation Association.
IFR means that pilots are capable of flying an aircraft with just instruments alone. VFR applies more to small, private planes when a pilot is able to navigate the plane on vision alone and can pretty much fly where he wants within a given air space, said Roger Maule, owner of Maule Air.
This means that Maule cannot conduct flight training and cannot test planes to get them licensed. Because it cannot certify planes, it cannot hand over the merchandise to their customers, the Maules said.
"We need to keep delivering airplanes, because we're backlogged for a year. But if you don't deliver airplanes, the money doesn't come in, and if the money doesn't come in a domino effect happens there," Brent Maule said.
If they could get their aircraft certified, then at least customers trained to fly IFR could pick them up as one customer from the Bahamas did Tuesday, Roger Maule said. But as it stands, pilots flying under VFR cannot pick up the airplanes.
VFRs are harder to track, plus lesser experienced pilots rely on VFRs, so more mistakes are apt to occur, local aviation experts said. It would stand to reason that those are the last to fly, except for crop dusters.
As of Tuesday, crop dusters can resume flying, said Selby McCash, press secretary for Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany. Dusters were given the go-ahead on Friday but that window slammed shut on Sunday evening through Monday, McCash said. Bishop appealed to the FAA to again lift the air ban on dusters so crucial to the agricultural industry this time of the year.
That does give the Maules and other air transportation businesses some hope.
Last week the air ban on VFRs was lifted only briefly, and the FAA began requiring VFRs to submit a flight plan. The Maules soon after took to the air to fly one of their planes to Valdosta, but by the time they approached the airport, they were turned back by the tower, Roger Maule said.
With the cash flow being choked off, the Maules, along with other air transportation-related businesses, are anxious to take off again.
"The reason to lift this ban is if people can't fly, they're not going to buy any airplanes. Not only airplane manufacturers get hurt, but all their suppliers who supply the engines, the (propellers), the seats, the leather, the instrument, the radios, the paint get hurt," Brent Maule said. "I understand the ban. It's good they're doing all they can for security, but I hope they come to a resolution soon so we can get back to business."
Anderson Aviation at the Moultrie Municipal Airport also is feeling the pressure of the VFR ban. General Manager Drue Anderson said that on normal weeks anywhere from 24 to 36 planes fly into the airport. To these, Anderson Aviation usually sells fuel. But this past week, only four or five planes have come in, he said, and business is suffering. The number of planes coming in for repairs has decreased, and the plane rentals for flight training is nil.
"Our traffic is practically gone," he said, adding that he is "scared to add" up the financial losses.
"I think the problem is that the FAA doesn't know exactly what to do," he said.
Anderson said he has to research the new laws to see what applies to the Moultrie airport. Some of the new laws apply to airports with control towers, and Moultrie has none, he said. Spence Field, however, does have control towers operating through the Sunbelt Agricultural Expo, he said, scheduled for Oct.
16 through 18. Moultrie sees a lot of air traffic during those days.
"Let's hope they have it squared away before Expo," Roger Maule said.
Anderson said that someone wanting to rent a plane must provide a pilot's license, a log book reflecting current flights and medical certificates. The rental business then has the option to affirm the pilot's ability on a check flight with a flight instructor.
The FAA has issued a short list of what to look for in a terrorist, Anderson said.
-- By Lori Glenn