AOPA fighting against permanent D.C. ADIZ

 - October 17, 2006, 7:55 AM

As the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) mounted a “national pilot alert” against the proposed permanent air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the Washington, D.C. area, general aviation received another black eye when a 22-year-old commercial-rated pilot allegedly stole a Citation VII and took it on a 350-mile joyride from St. Augustine Airport in Florida to Gwinnett County-Briscoe Field (LZU) in Lawrenceville, Ga.

Gwinnett County police said Daniel Andrew Wolcott was charged with felony theft and five misdemeanor counts of reckless conduct. According to a St. Augustine airport official, the Citation was there at midnight on October 8 and gone by 5 a.m. the next day.

The twinjet, which landed at LZU sometime overnight, sustained damage to the leading edge of a wing. Investigators received a break in the case when they spoke with people who said they were aboard the Citation on the flight to Georgia. The control towers at the two airports are closed between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.

FAA officials said the airplane’s transponder was turned off or disabled so that air traffic controllers could not pick it up easily on their radar scopes as it approached the busy Atlanta airspace. The passengers told police they were not aware the airplane was stolen. The Citation VII is owned by Pinnacle Air of Springdale, Ark.

Wolcott holds multi-engine and instrument ratings and is licensed to fly a Westwind 1124. He is not rated to fly a Citation VII, which requires two pilots. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that John George, marketing director at Pinnacle, said no one at the company knew Wolcott before the incident, and George has no idea why Wolcott targeted the 10-seat aircraft.

But the incident prompted NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen to send a letter to association members reminding them of the importance of security for the business aviation community.

“As a member of NBAA and the business aviation community, you play a role in demonstrating our commitment to security,” he wrote. “Your daily actions and processes that secure your aircraft, personnel and facilities will continue to reduce your exposure to aircraft misuse.”

Bolen urged NBAA members to review and update–if necessary– their aviation security programs and cautioned that security programs could be tested at any time.

The Greater Washington Business Aviation Association said in its October newsletter that the incident has caused the media to question again the security of the business aviation industry.

“Although Wolcott’s attorney has stated that his client has a drinking problem and is not a threat to national security, it is quite possible that this incident will be cited as further justification for imposing new restrictions on general aviation, and it emphasizes the continuing importance of securing aircraft when unattended,” the association warned.

The Cost of a Permanent ADIZ

Meanwhile, AOPA called on all pilots, regardless of where they live, to file official comments objecting to a permanent ADIZ in the Washington metropolitan area with the FAA before the November 2 deadline.

Now two-and-a-half years old, the ADIZ was established as a temporary precaution around Washington before the invasion of Iraq. The FAA imposed similar airspace restrictions over New York and Chicago and removed them within months. But the Wash- ington ADIZ remains, and early in August the FAA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to make the ADIZ permanent.

The FAA cited “the ongoing threat” of terrorist attacks in proposing that the ADIZ become a permanent “national defense airspace” area that would be known as the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area special flight rules area (SFRA).

ADIZ 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 with a radius of approximately 15 nm around the Ronald Reagan Washington National (DCA) VOR/DME, where more stringent access procedures are applied.

AOPA commissioned two nationally known firms to ascertain the economic effect on business owners at airports within the ADIZ. Montgomery County Airpark, which is about 20 nm northwest of DCA, has lost 72 jobs and $2.7 million in local purchasing, while Martin State Airport in Baltimore has lost some $15 million in revenue.

“There couldn’t be a more graphic demonstration than this of why an ADIZ is harmful wherever it might be established,” said AOPA president Phil Boyer. “That’s why it is critically important for every pilot to take 15 minutes now to write the FAA and oppose a permanent Washington, D.C., ADIZ. It could set a dangerous precedent, threatening every pilot’s freedom to fly.”

“We have written the FAA to request that the agency conduct a public hearing to gather additional information on the proposal to make permanent the Washington-area ADIZ,” said Bolen. “As we have noted previously, we are concerned about airspace in the Washington area or elsewhere.”