Operators fear permanent ADIZ in Washington will set precedent

 - September 25, 2006, 6:02 AM

Last month pilots, airport managers and others gathered at two public meetings to tell the FAA what they think of the agency’s proposal to make the Washington, D.C. air defense identification zone (ADIZ) a permanent fixture. But lurking in the rooms like a stealthy 900-pound gorilla was the even more worrisome possibility that the FAA might mandate similar “security” treatment elsewhere.

In more than 20,000 written anti-ADIZ comments to the agency, many pilots expressed the fear that the nation’s other 29 class B airspaces could be superceded by an ADIZ.

Representatives from the FAA and a number of other federal agencies heard  testimony from pilots and some government officials, all opposed to a permanent ADIZ, which would be christened the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area special flight rules area (SFRA).

One speaker, Navy lieutenant commander Tom Bush, speaking as a Mooney owner and not as an F-18 Hornet pilot, called the Washington ADIZ “eminent domain in the third dimension.” The veteran of the war in Iraq pointed out that the size of the Washington ADIZ, measuring 89 miles from east to west and 70 miles from north to south, necessitates wide deviations when he flies his Mooney from his home in the Norfolk, Va. area to visit a friend in central Pennsylvania.

But the ADIZ has cost far more than just fuel and time. Matthew Zuccaro, president of the Helicopter Association International, said the ADIZ has “effectively shut down civil helicopter operations in the national capital area.”

The ADIZ was originally established as a “temporary” precaution around Washington before the invasion of Iraq almost three years ago. Although the FAA imposed similar airspace restrictions over New York City and Chicago, the agency removed these after several months. But the Washington ADIZ remained intact, and last August the FAA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to make it permanent.

In the NPRM, the FAA cited “the ongoing threat” of terrorist attacks as its reason for changing the ADIZ to a permanent “national defense airspace” area. Violators would be subject to criminal charges and/or administrative action, including civil penalties and suspension or revocation of airman certificates, as well as the use of deadly force.

Like the ADIZ, the proposed SFRA closely mimics the Washington-Baltimore Class B airspace. The ADIZ requires identification of all flight operations within the airspace “to ensure the security of protected ground assets.” Inside the ADIZ is a flight-restricted zone with a radius of approximately 15 nm around the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport VOR/DME, where more stringent access procedures are applied.

At the second of the two public hearings, AOPA president Phil Boyer said general aviation would prefer to have the ADIZ eliminated entirely. If that is not possible, he called for a risk-based solution. “I implore you not to take a bad idea and make it permanent,” he pleaded.

National Air Transportation Association president Jim Coyne further explained that a terrorist could get a clearance to enter the ADIZ by furnishing the Potomac Tracon controllers with information belonging to a legitimate operator. “This is really an idiot’s game,” he said. “All we are doing is punishing the law-abiding people.”

But a far more chilling admonition came from Ford Ladd, an aviation attorney based in Alexandria, Va. He called the mix of pilots and student pilots waiting over the Casanova VOR in Virginia for a clearance into the ADIZ a “recipe for a midair.”

The comment period on the proposed rule ends this month (February 6).