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NTSB picks crash academy site

November 14, 2000

NTSB picks crash academy site



By ANDREW SCHOTZ / Staff Writer


The National Transportation Safety Board on Monday chose Northern Virginia as the home for an air crash investigation training academy, disappointing the manager of the Hagerstown Regional Airport, a runner-up.

George Washington University in Loudoun County, Va., will provide a 20-year lease for classrooms and future laboratory space, next to the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Crash Analysis Center, according to the NTSB.

The academy, expected to open in 2003, will have open space for accident reconstructions. The wreckage of TWA Flight 800, which crashed in 1996, will be kept there.

A letter from NTSB Acting Chairman Jim Hall to U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., mentioned two reasons Hagerstown Regional Airport was not chosen.

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One was that the center had to be within a one-hour non-rush-hour drive from NTSB headquarters in Washington, D.C., and from an airport with international service. The drive from Washington, D.C., with its two international airports, to Hagerstown was estimated at just over 90 minutes.

The NTSB letter also said the Hagerstown proposal failed to have "a formal relationship with a university with national stature," another prerequisite.

Hagerstown Regional Airport Manager Carolyn Motz said the news was disheartening and the reasons puzzling.

The NTSB had told her that the driving time would not matter, she said.

"Point blank we asked the powers that be. ... We were assured that it didn't make any difference ...," Motz said.

She said Hagerstown's proposal included an educational alliance with the University of Maryland's Department of Aerospace Engineering at College Park and with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which has campuses in Florida and Arizona.

Motz said it is probably not a coincidence that U.S. Rep. Frank R. Wolf, R-Va., chairman of the transportation subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, represents Loudoun County.

A spokesman for Wolf said earlier this month that the academy was bound for George Washington University under a transportation spending bill President Clinton signed Oct. 23.

All three of Washington County's federal elected officials voted to approve a conference report on the bill.

But forces behind the Washington County proposal didn't give up. NTSB project organizer Robert Gilson said this month that there were still three bids for the NTSB to consider.

Motz said Hall called her "out of the blue" two years ago, encouraging her to send a proposal, which she did. Even after the spending bill passed, the NTSB told Hagerstown it could land the academy, she said.

The University of Maryland submitted the third proposal, for a site near College Park.

News of the NTSB's announcement was made public late Monday afternoon.

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