House to discuss DCA access for GA

 - March 16, 2007, 12:30 PM

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), which has been closed to general aviation traffic since 9/11, will be the subject of a hearing by the House aviation subcommittee, probably sometime later this month.

Despite persistent and ongoing efforts by NBAA and the National Air Transportation Association to regain access to DCA for qualified GA operations, it remains off limits for all aircraft except Part 121 commercial scheduled airlines and some special government-related operations.

GA interests were successful in getting a DCA access provision into the recent Vision 100–Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act, which was passed by Congress late last year and signed into law by President Bush in December. The provision requires the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to implement a security plan to permit GA aircraft to take off and land at the airport.

Under the section, the FAA Administrator would be instructed to allow GA aircraft that comply with the requirements of the security plan to use the airport, except during any period that the President suspends the plan.

It remains unclear what form a government security plan for DCA might take. But NBAA is hopeful that its Transportation Security Administration Access Certificate (TSAAC) will be used as a possible security guideline.

Proof-of-Concept Program
The TSAAC was developed in partnership with the TSA as a potential method for certificate holders to gain access to TFRs equivalent to that enjoyed by the airlines. The TSA approved a proof-of-concept program for Part 91 operators at Teterboro (TEB) and Morristown Municipal (MMU) airports in New Jersey and Westchester County Airport (HPN) in White Plains, N.Y. Currently, it allows holders to fly internationally without TSA international waivers.

Although the TSA has not yet expanded the proof-of-concept security project to allow TSAAC applications from operators based outside TEB, MMU and HPN, NBAA said the TSAAC program might be launched nationally later this year.

With that in mind, NBAA is holding a series of “train the trainer” seminars to give participants the materials necessary to train their companies’ employees to meet the standards required to obtain a TSAAC.

Based on the NBAA security protocol, the seminar objectives are:

• Validate a benchmark protocol and security process for business aviation.

• Provide an efficient, straightforward and cost-effective response to security concerns.

• Allow operators to be in a position to capitalize immediately on the benefits of the TSAAC program, if it is launched nationally this year.

• Satisfy the training requirements for the TSAAC.

The NBAA sessions are scheduled for March 30 in Houston; April 1, New Orleans; May 11, Atlanta; June 8, Chicago; June 10, Denver; August 24, Philadelphia; and October 15, Las Vegas.

NBAA said those operators who wish to be in a position to capitalize on the benefits of the TSAAC program, if it is launched nationally, should attend. It suggested that Part 91 operators should designate a maximum of three flight-department representatives, ideally the manager, security manager and maintenance manager.

Because of the sensitive nature of the information given at these sessions, NBAA is required to keep accurate registration records. For that reason, it said that only people pre-registered will be allowed to attend these sessions and on-site registrants will not be admitted. In addition, attendance is limited to a maximum of three employees per company and photo ID is required to attend. The cost is $375 per person for NBAA members and $725 for nonmembers.

Unknown Revocation Reasons
On another front, AOPA nudged the TSA to act on what the association calls the “pilot insecurity” rule. Under the original rule, the TSA could direct the FAA to revoke aviation certificates for national-security reasons, but keep those reasons secret to protect national security. A certificate holder’s only recourse was to appeal the decision, without benefit of knowing the evidence, to the TSA, the agency that orders such revocations in the first place.

In Vision 100, Congress instructed the TSA to give certificate holders a third-party review if the agency revokes their certificates for security reasons. AOPA president Phil Boyer said in a letter to acting TSA administrator David Stone in late January, “Prompt action by the TSA is essential to implement this new law and eliminate any uncertainty for America’s pilots.”

Meanwhile, fallout continued over a CBS Evening News feature in January that painted small general aviation airports as avenues of access for terrorists. Rep. Vernon Ehlers (D-Mich.), who is a pilot and a member of the House aviation subcommittee, said in a letter to CBS News president Andrew Heyward that the television report presented “an incomplete, one-sided account” and failed to include information on general aviation security improvements.

“I have personally experienced heightened security measures before flying in general aviation aircraft,” the congressman wrote. “Before boarding us, our pilot required me to show identification, even though he knew I was a member of Congress, and he examined our luggage and checked for suspicious materials and passengers. I am confident that these types of procedure are used in many airports across the country.”

The CBS report had referenced an incident in Tampa, Fla., in which a young pilot deliberately flew a small Cessna into the side of a building, supposedly to illustrate the danger posed by general aviation. Ehlers argued it only demonstrated how little damage light airplanes can do, pointing out that although the pilot was killed and the airplane was destroyed, the building suffered only minor damage.