Comment period extended for ADIZ

 - October 25, 2006, 6:18 AM

As opposition continued to mount against a plan to make the Washington, D.C., air defense identification zone (ADIZ) permanent, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta announced at the AOPA Expo that he has extended the comment period deadline from November 2 to February 6.

The FAA also acceded to general aviation’s request for public meetings on the ADIZ, with the meeting dates and locations to be published later. By early last month, the agency had received nearly 20,000 comments, most of them opposing the proposal.

The ADIZ was originally established as a temporary precaution around Washington before the invasion of Iraq two-and-a-half years ago. The FAA imposed similar airspace restrictions over New York City and Chicago but removed them within months. The Washington ADIZ has never gone away, and now the agency has proposed making it permanent and calling it the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area special flight rules area (SFRA).

As with the ADIZ, the Washington SFRA closely mimics all of the Washington-Baltimore area Class B airspace. It requires identification of all flight operations within the airspace, including pattern work and touch-and-goes. Tucked inside the ADIZ is a flight-restricted zone with a radius of approximately 15 nm from the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport VOR/DME.

Matthew Zuccaro, president of the Helicopter Association International (HAI), noted in formal comments in opposition to the permanent ADIZ that its restrictions have “created a fence 18,000 feet high surrounding a huge area of some 3,700 square miles” and has had a “serious negative impact on general aviation activity and has devastated civil helicopter operations in the affected area.”

HAI encouraged the FAA to consider all possible alternatives to existing airspace restrictions before making them permanent, recommended that the regulations include procedures to encourage ongoing periodic review and modification of the rules and urged the agency to withdraw the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) and enter into a working dialog with the general aviation community to consider alternatives and modifications to the existing 18,000-foot-tall and 90-mile-wide “stone wall” around the nation’s capital.

But it is not just general aviation interests that oppose the plan. The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure requested in a letter to FAA Administrator Marion Blakey a week before Mineta’s announcement that the comment period be extended and that one or more public meetings be held on the notice of proposed rulemaking to create the permanent ADIZ.

“Additionally, we recommend that the FAA invite Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security officials to attend these public meetings to facilitate a better understanding of the operational challenges caused by the ADIZ,” the committee said. “Reviewing written comments alone will not allow the FAA and other federal security officials a full opportunity to pose questions and explore alternatives.”

The letter was signed by 40 members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee, as well as by several members of other committees. In addition, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a general aviation pilot with more than 11,000 hours, said in a letter to Blakey that he not only opposes the ADIZ but is also concerned that the agency has failed to comply with the law.

“What is most troubling about this [NPRM] is that the FAA is proposing to make permanent the ADIZ without addressing the necessary operational concerns to ease the burden on pilots and air traffic controllers,” he wrote. [The] “Vision 100-Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act” required that the FAA provide Congress with justifications for the ADIZ every 60 days, which were to include proposed changes to improve operations. To my knowledge, we are still waiting for these justifications.”

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), the union that represents controllers, also said in comments on the NPRM that the ADIZ is dangerous, expensive and unjustified. “We urge the abolishment of the ADIZ for safety, security and efficiency’s sake,” NATCA said.

Even the town council of Leesburg, Va., is opposing the ADIZ. Following the lead of its airport commission, the town council “strongly urged” the FAA to withdraw the NPRM in its entirety.

It also “strongly urged” that the FAA reduce the restrictions on airspace over Leesburg to the lowest level practicable under current security requirements and consider the economic and political effects of airspace restrictions that reduce interstate commercial activity to and from the Leesburg Executive Airport (JYO).

JYO is located 9 nm northwest of Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) and is designated a general aviation reliever airport to offload capacity for IAD. “To provide sufficient services to make the airport an attractive alternative to Dulles, we have joined with the federal government and the commonwealth of Virginia in making large, recent investments in the runway, terminal and operating facilities of the airport,” the commission wrote.