Porter Field shut down as island skies stay quiet

"The skies over South Whidbey were quiet last week as orders from the Federal Aviation Administration grounded almost every aircraft in the nation.Following Tuesday's terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, all pilots operating in the United States were ordered to keep their planes, helicopters, gliders, blimps, and balloons on the ground. The only exception to the order were military aircraft, rescue aircraft and other approved government aircraft.While the closure of large airports like Washington's Sea-Tac International Airport caused the most noticeable decrease in air traffic, small airfields were under the same restriction. At South Whidbey's Porter Field, a private airfield with a single runway, the planes were not only on the ground, but stowed away in their hangars.Steve Gutzmer, one of several pilots who own the airstrip, said Thursday morning that pilots might be able to take off from the field by Friday afternoon.I would guess it will be open this time tomorrow, or maybe Monday, he said.International airports reopened for flights Thursday afternoon, but small airports did not get the same relief.The skies over the island were not completely silent. Still flying were military aircraft and emergency medical helicopters from Airlift Northwest. Toni Long, an associate director for the medical airlift service, said Thursday that Airlift helicopters were ready to fly to Whidbey Island if someone needed fast transportation to Harborview Medical Center.However, Long said, all flights were subject to a 15-minute delay - the amount of time pilots needed to get permission from FAA air traffic controllers to lift off.We are able to fly, Long said.She said she did not know when the FAA would lift the flight restriction.South Whidbey did see, or rather hear, a good deal of air traffic Tuesday night. People living in Freeland heard the drone of military aircraft flying over the island both Tuesday and Wednesday. The planes did not come from NAS Whidbey.Kimberly Martin, a spokesperson for NAS Whidbey, said the base's aircraft were flying on a regular training schedule as of Thursday. She said the base made no modification in its flight schedule after Tuesday's events. "

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