TSA publishes interim rule for DCA

 - October 3, 2006, 11:03 AM

The long-awaited reopening of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to some general aviation aircraft now appears imminent with the Transportation Security Administration’s release of an interim final rule last month.

The rules will take effect 30 days after they appear in the Federal Register, but the first GA aircraft are not likely to land at DCA until some time after that 30-day period. When they do, it will mark the end of their four-year hiatus.

Those wishing to use Washington National must first meet all of the security requirements spelled out in the interim final rule. They include adoption of a DCA Access Standard Security Program (DASSP), which includes a fingerprint-based criminal history records check. After they have complied with the requirements, operators will be eligible to apply to the FAA for a reservation–and then to TSA for authorization–to operate specific flights into and out of DCA.

To receive authorization for a flight, aircraft operators must first submit to TSA-conducted name-based threat assessments of their flight crewmembers and passengers. They also must carry an armed security officer vetted by the TSA and have received specialized training and authorization from that agency.

The operators must make  their last departure from an FBO that holds a security authorization issued by the TSA at an airport the agency has designated as “gateway airport.” At each gateway airport, the TSA will inspect the aircraft and screen the passengers, their carry-on property and property carried in the cargo hold of the aircraft before it departs for DCA.

The aircraft operator must also comply with all applicable FAA rules, including those for operating in the flight restricted zone (FRZ). The FRZ is an airspace ring centered on the Washington, D.C. VOR/DME with a radius of approximately 15 nm. To fly in FRZ airspace, an operator must comply with certain access and security procedures implemented by the FAA and TSA.

The aircraft operator must reimburse the TSA for any costs associated with access to DCA. They include $15 for the threat assessment the TSA will conduct for each passenger and crewmember whose information the aircraft operator submits to the TSA as part of the flight approval process, and $296 per round trip into and out of DCA.

The interim flight rule applies to all passenger aircraft operations into or out of DCA except for domestic and foreign air carriers that already operate under TSA-approved security programs. Also exempt are military, law enforcement and medevac aircraft; federal and state government aircraft operating under an airspace waiver approved by the TSA and authorized by the FAA; and all-cargo aircraft operations.

Implementing Security Measures

In order to operate into or out of DCA, an operator must name a security coordinator responsible for implementing the DCA Access Standard Security Program and other security requirements under the interim final rule. The security coordinator also must undergo a fingerprint-based criminal history records check and a security threat assessment performed by the TSA. The agency noted that the process is similar to that used for aircraft operators with a Twelve-Five Standard Security Program or a Private Charter Standard Security Program.

To receive DASSP authorization, the aircraft operator must contact the TSA’s Office of Aviation Programs and request it. The TSA will verify the operator’s registration and issue him or her a DASSP. Once the operator implements the DASSP requirements, the TSA will inspect the operation to ensure that the program requirements have been met. Upon satisfactory inspection, the operator will be eligible to apply to the TSA for approval to operate flights into and out of DCA.

The operator must apply for TSA authorization for the flight by submitting to the TSA information for each passenger and crewmember, information on the aircraft and flight plan and any other information the TSA requires.

If the TSA authorizes the flight, it will send its authorization to the FAA for assignment of a final reservation. Noting that reservations will be based on “air traffic scheduling and other relevant factors,” the agency expects the number of takeoffs and landings at DCA will be limited to 48 per day.

The TSA also pointed out that Signature Flight Support handled about 660 GA and charter flights per week before 9/11, the majority of which were corporate aircraft accommodating business travelers in the Washington, D.C., area.

“It is important to resume these operations at DCA to permit these operators, their customers and affected local businesses to recover from the adverse economic impacts brought on the by the events of Sept. 11, 2001,” the TSA notice said. It added that DCA is close to federal government assets, infrastructure and functions that must be protected. “Therefore it is necessary to balance the economic interests of operators against the legitimate governmental security risks that exist,” the TSA explained.