FAA floats idea of permanent Washington ADIZ

 - September 29, 2006, 10:01 AM

While many in general aviation were seeking to modify or eliminate the much-loathed Washington air defense identification zone (ADIZ), the FAA executed a 180-degree course change early last month and issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to make the ADIZ permanent.

Citing “the ongoing threat” of terrorist attacks, the FAA wants to make the supposedly temporary Washington ADIZ a permanent “national defense airspace” area that would be known as the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area Special Flight Rules Area (DC SFRA).

Violators would be subject to criminal charges and/or administrative action, including civil penalties and suspension or revocation of airman certificates, and the use of deadly force.

Like the ADIZ, the SFRA closely mimics the Washington-Baltimore-area 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 (FRZ) with a radius of approximately 15 nm around the DCA VOR/DME, where more stringent access procedures are applied.

Most kinds of flight operation are prohibited in the FRZ, and the new proposal would continue to prohibit them. Part 121 operations, currently permitted in the FRZ airspace, would continue to be permitted. Department of Defense, law enforcement and aeromedical flights also would continue to be permitted as long as the flight crew remains in contact with ATC and squawks an ATC-assigned transponder code.

The FAA said it is proposing to codify the current flight restrictions to help the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense protect national assets in the National Capital Region.

Alphabet Groups Weigh In

NBAA said it was reviewing the FAA’s proposal to make permanent what had been temporary aircraft access restrictions in the Washington area. “We are concerned about any proposal to permanently restrict aircraft access to airports and airspace, and we will be looking at the proposal with an eye toward its impact on security, economic activity and basic freedom of mobility,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen.

NBAA believes the formal rulemaking process will reveal the significant economic effect that these restrictions have had on aviation in the Washington area and is encouraging its members to submit comments on the rule.

“AOPA recognizes the necessity to protect the national assets in the nation’s capital,” said AOPA president Phil Boyer. “The 15-nm-radius no-fly zone known as the flight-restricted zone does that. But we take strong exception to the FAA’s proposal to make the temporary outer ring of D.C.’s defensive airspace–the ADIZ–permanent.”

The National Air Transportation Association expressed concern about the move to permanently establish restricted airspace around the capital region and urged its members to review and comment on the NPRM. The Helicopter Association International (HAI) said it was preparing a comment and asked members to share their thoughts. HAI also requested that members send the association copies of any comments they submit to the public docket.

The FAA is inviting comments “relating to the economic, environmental, energy or federalism impacts” that might result from adopting the proposals in the NPRM. It said the most helpful comments reference a specific portion of the proposal, explain the reason for any recommended change and include supporting data.

Comments, due by November 2, should be identified by Docket Number FAA-2004-17005 and sent to the Department of Transportation Docket Web site at http:// dms.dot.gov; the government-wide rulemaking Web site at www.reg ulations.gov; by mail or hand delivery to the Docket Management Facility, U.S. Department of Transportation, 400 Seventh Street SW, Nassif Building, Room PL-401, Washington, DC 20590-0001; or by fax at (202) 493-2251.

Early comments were unanimous in opposition to the NPRM, with respondents pointing out that a Ryder truck filled with explosives poses a much greater threat than a small airplane, and that banning GA aircraft from the national capital area gives a victory to Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. Other commenters expressed concern that other cities might follow Chicago’s lead, reminding the FAA that Mayor Richard Daley demanded a temporary flight restriction over his city and then closed Meigs Field initially under the guise of security.

Economic Implications of a Permanent ADIZ

Others argued that the government has not adequately estimated the total cost of implementation as required by the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995. The FAA claimed that the proposed rule would have benefits that justify its costs, although it admitted that it may have a “significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities.”

The FAA said there are approximately 150 airports/heliports in the proposed DC SFRA, which covers nearly 2,000 sq mi extending up to 18,000 feet. Given the additional requirements that general aviation pilots face, the FAA noted that many of these airports would have fewer operations, resulting in a loss of revenue. In some cases, some of these pilots would fly to alternate airports outside the proposed DC SFRA, resulting in an increase in operations and revenues for these alternate airports, the agency postulated.

The agency is inviting comments from both small airports and general aviation pilots on the effect of the DC SFRA on these airports. The FAA, which has estimated the total costs at $296.6 million ($207.41 million, discounted) over 10 years, asked responders to submit documentation.

In the days immediately before the FAA released the NPRM, AOPA had been continuing its efforts to have the ADIZ changed or abolished. In late July, the association met with the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to outline what is wrong with the “temporary” ADIZ.

“The ADIZ has been an operational disaster, the security reasons were never justified to the pilot community, and alternatives were not considered,” said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior v-p of government and technical affairs. “Pilots continue to express frustration about the difficulties of meeting the requirements to file ADIZ flight plans, to obtain unique transponder codes and to establish communication with ATC.”

The ADIZ over Washington and another over New York City were established in February 2003 as temporary security measures in preparation for the then-pending Iraq invasion. The New York ADIZ was eliminated after President Bush declared the end of major hostilities.

Although the law requires a periodic report to Congress justifying the continuing need for the ADIZ, the security agencies and the FAA have missed almost all of their reporting deadlines, said AOPA. The few reports submitted admit to operational problems but provide little justification, it claimed.

AOPA told the OMB officials that neither pilots nor air traffic controllers were consulted before the ADIZ was implemented. And since 9/11, the government has made numerous upgrades to security systems around the nation’s capital, including a new visual warning system that uses lasers to warn pilots away from restricted airspace, antiaircraft missile batteries and greatly improved radar coverage.

Such measures significantly enhance the protection offered by the FRZ, making the ADIZ unnecessary, AOPA argued.