TSA puts off reopening D.C. heliport

 - November 1, 2006, 11:41 AM

Washington, D.C.’s South Capitol Street Heliport (09W) has been struggling to reopen to at least some pre-approved general aviation rotorcraft since mid-2002, but the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been dragging its feet.

Undoubtedly, the heliport’s location, inside the District of Columbia city limits about one-and- a-half miles south of the Capitol and two miles southeast of the White House, is part of the reason for the reluctance from the TSA and other security agencies.

Currently the only helicopter traffic in or out of 09W is a Eurocopter AS 350B3 belonging to the Washington Metropolitan Police Air Service that is based at the heliport. As a result, there are armed police officers on the property virtually 24/7, and generally several Washington Metro Police vehicles are parked in plain sight. Glenwood Aviation, the FBO at the heliport, has noted in its applications to the TSA that the police presence would deter terrorists further.

Heliport Safety Procedures

The FBO initially was asked to develop “heliport security procedures” in 2002 after a waiver program that permitted Part 135 operations was scrapped. Glenwood developed those guidelines with the assistance of the former chief pilot of the Maryland State Police medevac system. The FBO submitted the 15-page document to the TSA near the end of 2002.

Among the provisions were that no one could board helicopters at either end of a flight bound for 09W unless the aircraft operator knew them personally. Aircraft operations would be on a strict reservation basis, flown by authorized pilots only.

But after months of meetings, according to Glenwood, the TSA asked the heliport to prepare a “Category X” airport security package. There are only 12 Category X airports in the country, all of them major airline airports.

Glenwood had hoped to be included with the DC-3 airports– College Park, Potomac and Washington Executive/Hyde Field– which are located inside the flight restricted zone and recently given limited transient access.

As part of its Category X application, the FBO identified 37 companies that it said indicated a desire to use the heliport and agreed to provide information about their flight crews and security at their home bases. The TSA asked the FBO to narrow the list of applicants to 15 initially, implying that the rest could submit applications later if the first were approved.

The FBO resubmitted the Category X “helicopter security procedures” package to the TSA last November, but no action had been taken as of press time. With all of the background security information provided by corporations that want to use the facility, the submission runs nearly 100 pages.

Further complicating the situation is a proposal to start a scheduled helicopter airline that would fly between the South Capitol Street Heliport, New York Downtown Manhattan Heliport and Boston, and by the fact that by 2008 a new professional baseball stadium is expected to open a few blocks to the northeast of 09W.

Entrepreneur Steve Walker, chairman of America Rising, part of Glenwood Aviation, has proposed using several helicopters capable of carrying 15 to 18 passengers among the three cities.

“We’ve been working with the TSA and others for three years now to try to reopen the South Capitol Street Heliport,” Walker told AIN. “We think we deserve the same treatment that the Maryland three [airports] have gotten,” he concluded.