DCA will open to GA soon, with many strings attached

 - October 9, 2006, 4:45 AM

A limited number of general aviation operations may return to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) soon, but some rather onerous requirements will be attached.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced May 25 that as many as 48 general aviation flights per day will be allowed into and out of DCA within 90 days of the rules’ being published. At press time the requirements had not been published in the Federal Register.

Under the proposal, private aircraft could land and take off from the airport for the first time since 9/11 if they abide by a strict list of security rules.

While general aviation groups for the most part greeted the proposal with approval, some considered the restrictions excessively harsh. Nevertheless, NBAA called the plan a significant breakthrough in its long-standing efforts to promote access to airports and airspace for the GA community.

“Our experience in restoring access to Washington airspace for commercial and general aviation tells us that the development of operational procedures is constantly evolving,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen. “This plan, therefore, should be viewed as a good first step in normalizing general aviation operations at DCA.”

National Air Transportation Association (NATA) president Jim Coyne said, “NATA has fought long and hard for the reopening of DCA to charter and general aviation operations. We are ecstatic that these efforts, along with those of our other partners in industry, have led to the federal government finally issuing a security plan that will allow for the return of charter and general aviation to our nation’s capital airport.”

The Transportation Security Administration decision came on the heels of pressure from corporate operators and Congress, which mandated reopening DCA to some GA aircraft in several pieces of legislation passed this spring.

In May the House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security approved legislation calling for the restoration of GA access within 60 days of the bill’s passage. This bill was the third approved for House consideration. The FAA’s 2003 reauthorization also ordered opening DCA to general aviation; lawmakers and the industry contended that the Secret Service blocked its implementation.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, said, “While I welcome the announcement of procedures for beginning limited access to general aviation, we must continue to expand the number of eligible aircraft and simplify some of the harsh terms imposed.”

Rep. Jerry Costello (Ill.), the ranking Democrat on Mica’s subcommittee, said, “I have concerns about the details, as several of the requirements seem overly burdensome, but it is progress.” According to Rep. Bennie Thompson (Miss.), the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, the plan does too little to provide access to small GA aircraft.

Early last month, Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), chairman of the Senate aviation subcommittee, displeased with the number and location of the gateway airports, called for discussion of phase two of the plan.

General Aviation Manufacturers Association president and CEO Pete Bunce said, “It is our hope that once the current plan for GA access is in place, we can work to increase the number of gateway cities and operators that can access our nation’s capital.”