Part 91 ops crawl back to something like normal

 - October 2, 2007, 11:05 AM

By the middle of last month, as the Bush Administration was cautiously lifting many of the September 11-inspired airspace restrictions, NBAA and other general aviation organizations continued to work for Part 91 IFR operations within the New York and Washington temporary flight restriction (TFR) areas, including Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA).

As NBAA also pressured for increased access for foreign-registered aircraft and increases in the number of countries through which international flights may proceed, it joined with other GA associations to regain Part 91 VFR access to enhanced Class B airspace, including New York City helicopter operations.

But at the same time, the association maintained a red “warning” box on its Web site, with a “crawl” that urged pilots to check notams before each flight. NBAA pointed out that emergency air traffic rules are still in effect, and it further cautioned that according to notam 0609, the military has permission to use deadly force for unauthorized incursions into restricted or prohibited areas.

Issued on October 6, the notam said that pilots also should know and understand their responsibilities if intercepted, and review intercept procedures in the Aeronautical Information Manual. It ordered that all aircraft flying in the NAS close to the TFR areas a listen to 121.5 MHz or UHF 243.0.

By the middle of last month, Part 91 VFR operations were restored in enhanced Class B (ECB) airspace around 27 of 30 major metropolitan areas. The FAA had also canceled a TFR around the World Trade Center site, which cleared the way for Part 135 operations into New York City heliports that were within its three-nautical-mile no-fly zone. But Part 91 operators were not yet able to take advantage of the cancellation of that TFR, since all Part 91 operations were still prohibited within 18 nm of the JFK VOR.

Earlier, the FAA had given approval to Part 91 IFR operations in the Washington and New York no-fly zones between the 18- and 25-nm rings around the JFK VOR and the DCA VOR. That enabled Part 91 IFR operators to resume using Dulles, Teterboro and Republic Airports.

But that same notam prohibited Part 91 operations within a 15-nm radius of the Boston VOR except for IFR arrivals/departures at Boston Logan International Airport (BOS). It permitted Part 91 IFR operations and the outer limits of the Boston enhanced Class B airspace, including the airports at Beverly, Bedford and Norwood.
Except for temporary flight restricted areas around New York and Washington, enhanced Class B airspace ceased to be an issue with NBAA when IFR was approved by DOT Secretary Norman Mineta on September 14. But NBAA continued to stand with the rest of general aviation in its battle to restore VFR access to the remaining ECBs.

In an October 17 hearing on general aviation flying in Class B airspace before the House aviation subcommittee, NBAA president Jack Olcott stressed that within the then-remaining 15 ECB areas, restrictions continue to affect helicopter operations, flight schools, FBOs, aircraft maintenance facilities and many other businesses and individuals that rely on airports for their livelihood.

He informed lawmakers that there is also a unique situation in the New York City enhanced Class B airspace where a temporary flight restriction additionally prohibits Part 91 helicopter operations, both VFR and IFR. At press time, only charter helicopter operations had access to the Manhattan heliports.

While noting that NBAA is “sensitive to the needs of general aviation, particularly business aviation,” with regard to those restrictions affecting operations within enhanced Class B airspace that “continue to limit access to vital aviation assets,” Olcott highlighted other lingering restrictions that continue to slow progress.
Olcott pointed out to the members of Congress that international departing and arriving flights of U.S.-registered aircraft must pass through seven international “portals.” While providing necessary access to and from the U.S., these locations–Japan, Canada, Mexico, The Bahamas, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland–greatly restrict the efficiency of international operations, he said.
“For example, an operator in the U.S. Virgin Islands traveling to St. Martin, a French territory only 200 miles away, must first travel to the Bahamas and then return to St. Martin, for a total trip length of 1,600 miles,” said Olcott.

He also pointed out that unique aviation activities, such as electronic news gathering, traffic reporting, aerial advertising and banner towing, remain severely restricted outside enhanced Class B airspace and are grounded inside that airspace.
Enhanced Class B airspace was created following the September 11 groundstop, and it extends 40 nm outward from the center of each of the nation’s 30 Class B airports and from the ground upwards to 18,000 ft. The first operators to be allowed back into ECB were the airlines, followed by charter operators and others flying IFR.
Addressing some of the inscrutable rules instituted by White House national security advisors, Andy Cebula, senior v-p of government and technical affairs for AOPA, told the subcommittee that the FAA has allowed pilots who currently have an IFR rating to operate inside the ECB airspace.

“These pilots can be flying anything from a Cessna Citation to a Cessna 172,” he testified. “If you are IFR-rated, and your aircraft is equipped for IFR flight, you are welcome in enhanced Class B airspace no matter how large or small your aircraft is.
So why not allow VFR?”

Cebula argued that VFR operation of small aircraft poses no more threat than IFR operation of small aircraft. “To enter enhanced Class B airspace, both IFR and VFR aircraft must have permission from air traffic control and must be able to squawk a transponder code so they appear distinctively on radar,” he told the House panel. “Most importantly, both must follow air traffic control instructions. So, why allow IFR and not VFR? It really makes no sense.”

Both FAA Administrator Jane Garvey and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta have admitted publically that aviation rules were being driven by White House advisors to President Bush, most notably the National Security Council (NSC). And it quickly became apparent that the NSC had little to no understanding of general aviation.

That, in turn, led to wide dichotomies in the rules. One such bizarre mandate concerned flight training inside ECB airspace, which Cebula explained for the House members. “A student pilot can now fly alone inside enhanced Class B airspace, but his instructor can’t,” he said. “In other words, if a student wanted to fly from Orlando [Fla.] Executive Airport to New Smyrna Beach [Fla.] to take his private pilot exam, he could do that. But if he passes, he can’t fly home without breaking the rules. These discrepancies must be addressed.”

Although most of the issues may become moot, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) successfully attached an amendment to the aviation security bill approved unanimously by the Senate to require the Bush Administration to submit to Congress within 30 days of enactment a description of each restriction on the use of national airspace put in place as a result of the September 11 attacks, as well as a justification for such restrictions remaining in place. Inhofe is one of a number of GA pilots in the House and Senate.

At an earlier hearing before the House aviation subcommittee, Ed Bolen, president of GAMA, admitted that GA is not well understood by members of the NSC, and he pleaded for help from Congress to attempt to liaise with that agency “to try to reopen the airspace as fully as possible and in a manner consistent with national security interests.”

Agreed Olcott, “I believe the problem really speaks to the focus on the airlines being the air transportation system of this country.” Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), another pilot, growled that the NSC was “making absurd decisions” on “what I think is the safest part of aviation.” Some of the problem, he said, “is just lack of political clout.”
On October 14, an assembly of pilots, aviation business owners and airport managers staged a rally to protest the cumbersome VFR restrictions at Maryland’s College Park Airport. Located nine miles northeast of the DCA VOR, the nation’s longest-operating airport (dating back to 1909) at press time remained closed.

Organizers said that rally, which made several local television news broadcasts, provided a platform to educate government officials, the news media and the general public on the far-reaching effect that the flying restrictions have had on general aviation and neighboring communities.

As Cebula pointed out to the House aviation subcommittee on October 17, nearly 65,000 pilots and their more than 20,500 aircraft based at 132 airports were trapped on the ground beneath enhanced Class B airspace. “We believe it is imperative these operations be allowed to resume,” he said. Someone was listening–a week later the FAA reopened 12 more ECB areas to VFR traffic, leaving only three metropolitan cities (New York City, Washington and Boston) with the restricted areas.