DCA no longer closed to bizav

 - October 17, 2006, 5:56 AM

In what was hailed as a “giant first step” in reopening Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) to general aviation, a Hawker 1000 operated by New World Jet for Jet Aviation landed at dawn on October 18 after flying to the nation’s capital from Teterboro Airport (TEB) in New Jersey.

After the Hawker taxied to Signature Flight Support, the first passenger to debark was National Air Transportation Association (NATA) pres- ident Jim Coyne, whose association, with NBAA, spearheaded the drive to return general aviation to DCA after a four-year-long absence in the wake of 9/11.

Greeting the first GA arrival were dignitaries from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), Congress, the federal government and the aviation community. One other chartered aircraft came in during the day, although some flights continue to use DCA under a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) waiver system.

In 2000, Reagan National handled 44,592 general aviation flights, an average of 122 a day. Under current TSA guidelines, initially 48 general aviation flights will be permitted each day. All inbound flights must originate from one of 12 “gateway” airports.

“I’m really happy today to announce that Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is once again a full-service airport serving the entire spectrum of the aviation community,” said James Bennett, president and CEO of MWAA. “We at the airports authority are thankful to those members of Congress, to our friends at Signature Flight Support and the entire aviation community who have worked tirelessly to bring us to this important day.”

A Long Road to Full Access

But Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) reminded onlookers that there is still work to be done. “You have to walk before you can run,” he said. “This is a first step. We used to have [up to] 200 flights coming in here a day; we will be limited to 48 under the new rules.” Many of those rules and regulations are expensive, he said, but are necessary to get a pre-clearance from the TSA to land at DCA.

“Opening DCA to GA underscores the TSA’s commitment to balancing the security and commercial needs of the capital region,” said Pat Hynes, federal security director for the TSA at DCA.

Congress required the Department of Homeland Security and the TSA to develop a security plan to permit general aviation aircraft to operate into and out of DCA in the 2003 Vision 100-Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act. On July 18 the TSA published an interim final rule outlining the guidelines for general aviation at DCA.

Lawmakers on hand for the inaugural flight indicated they would work to reduce further some of the stringent requirements for GA operations at DCA. Coyne, who described the flight from TEB as “perfect, but not as perfect as we want to become in the future,” lamented that he had to arrive at Teterboro two hours before departure. Among the requirements for using DCA are screening and inspection of crew, passengers, baggage and aircraft, and the carriage of an armed security officer on board.

Aircraft operators who want to use Washington National must adopt a DCA access standard security program, which includes a fingerprint-based criminal history records check. After they have complied with the requirements, operators are eligible to apply to the FAA for a reservation–and then to the 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 a TSA-approved armed security officer and must make their last departure before DCA from an FBO that holds a TSA security authorization at one of the 12 airports the agency has designated as a gateway.

New World Jet was the first Part 135 operator to receive TSA approval for access into Reagan National. In addition to Coyne, passengers aboard the inaugural flight included Robert Seidel, senior v-p and general manager of Jet Aviation’s U.S. charter services, and Richard Kunert, New World Jet’s director of security. There also was a TSA security advisor on board.

The agency is implementing general aviation’s return to DCA in two phases. The first is open to operators in scheduled or charter service that have a Twelve-Five Standard Security Program who operate aircraft with a maximum takeoff weight of more than 12,500 pounds and aircraft operated by corporations.

In about a year, the TSA will consider allowing aircraft operated by private individuals and by scheduled and charter operations in aircraft not otherwise required to be under security programs because they weigh 12,500 pounds or less.

In its comments on the interim final rule, NATA criticized the inconsistency in phase one that permits corporate aircraft operators to conduct flights in aircraft with an mtow of 12,500 or less while prohibiting air charter operators from using the same aircraft on flights.