The June 23 event was called “Celebrate General Aviation,” but with general aviation access to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) still in limbo at the time of the celebration, some thought it might have been a tad premature. That goal inched closer to reality almost a month later with the publication of the interim final rule that would reopen DCA to some GA operations.
Celebrate General Aviation was chaired by Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) and co-hosted by NBAA, Signature Flight Support, the Washington Airports Task Force and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
The event drew several hundred aviation and business leaders to Signature’s hangar at DCA to celebrate the planned restoration of business aviation at the airport, to salute congressional leaders and Bush Administration officials for making the return possible, to highlight the role of GA in the nation’s mobility and economy and to champion increased access to all parts of the National Airspace System for GA aircraft.
Calling general aviation’s return to Reagan Washington National Airport “appropriate,” Allen contended that such restrictions “actually do the terrorists’ jobs for them.” Further, with the reopening of DCA to some limited general aviation operations, he said “one of the last post-9/11 restrictions on our freedom to travel is being removed.”
Premature or Prescient?
At the time of the June event, the interim final rule that would reopen DCA to some GA operations was still languishing at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The department first announced on May 25 that as many as 48 GA flights per day would be allowed into and out of Washington National if they operate through one of 12 “gateway” airports.
The proposal was to take effect within 90 days of its publication in the Federal Register, which the DHS suggested would happen within a few days of the announcement. But on the night of the celebration, the official notification still had not been printed; it was imminent at press time.
When the DHS made the announcement, NBAA acknowledged that the restrictions attached to the proposal–including the requirement for an armed law enforcement officer on board and passenger and luggage security screening at the gateway airports–might temper enthusiasm about it.
However, the bizav association cautioned that the development of operational procedures is constantly evolving and that the DHS plan should be viewed as “a good first step” toward normalizing GA operations at DCA.
“We are looking forward to working with our customers, the airports authority and the federal agencies to ensure that the limited return of business aircraft to Reagan National happens smoothly so that the remaining limits can be progressively lifted,” said Mary Miller, corporate v-p of customer relations for Signature.
Despite the upbeat mood, organizers were unable to secure permission from the Transportation Security Administration to have examples of business and general aviation aircraft on display for the event.
But Customs and Border Protection had one of its Cessna Citations and two Black Hawk helicopters on the tarmac in front of the hangar, and the Fairfax County (Va.) Police Helicopter Division had one of its Bell helicopters there as well. During the event, one of the Black Hawks had to scramble to intercept an aircraft that had violated the Washington Air Defense Identification Zone.
Allen acknowledged that there are conditions of general aviation’s return to DCA that “have to be tweaked over time,” but he predicted a first official flight this fall. “This is a team victory in bringing back freedom to our nation’s capital and to Ronald Reagan National Airport,” he said. “Stay strong; we’ll fight together and freedom will come back.”