Budget bill would restore genav access to DCA

 - April 2, 2007, 10:39 AM

The House Appropriations Committee included language in the Department of Homeland Security fiscal year 2005 budget that requires Secretary Tom Ridge, in conjunction with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Secret Service, to develop and implement a “reasonable and effective” security plan restoring access to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) for security-qualified charter and GA operators by November 30.

The language in the bill suggests that security procedures for charter and GA flights arriving at or departing from DCA could include–but not be limited to–the vetting and certification of the GA operator’s subject flight and ground crews; advance clearing of passenger manifests by the TSA; physical screening of all passengers and luggage following TSA-specified standards and procedures; securing and physical inspection of the subject aircraft; compliance with the “30-minute rule;” compliance with special flight procedures; and allowing flights arriving at DCA to depart from only a limited number of “gateway” airports. Any additional measures that could lead to the reopening of DCA must ensure that the unique security needs of the National Capital Region are adequately addressed, the committee added.

The action by the House Appropriations Committee reinforces a provision in the Vision 100 FAA reauthorization bill signed into law by President Bush late last year. It also required the Homeland Security Secretary to implement a security plan to permit general aviation aircraft to take off and land at the airport. But it contained no specific date.

“We are pleased with what has been achieved so far,” said NBAA senior vice president of government and public affairs Pete West. “Our attention now shifts to the Senate. We will pursue certain modifications, such as removal of a reference to ‘gateway’ airports, and will focus on doing so without affecting the significant progress that has been experienced.”

Red Alert

The uniqueness of the Washington, D.C. area’s security needs was boldly illustrated June 9 in the midst of funeral preparations for former President Ronald Reagan, when a Beech King Air A100 operated by the Kentucky State Police caused a frantic evacuation of the Capitol, the Supreme Court and surrounding congressional office buildings and the dispersal of long queues waiting to pass through the rotunda once the casket arrived.

The King Air, which actually had been issued a waiver to land at DCA, caused F-15s and Black Hawk helicopters to be vectored into the area because the twin turboprop’s transponder was not functioning and it entered Washington’s restricted airspace as “unidentified” on some radars. That was about 40 minutes before the 747 carrying Reagan’s body was scheduled to land at Andrews Air Force Base.

The National Capital Regional Command Center, which coordinates security responses, picked up the King Air as an unidentified target on its primary radar and notified the Potomac Tracon. Apparently the confusion arose because the Tracon had a data tag for the King Air, which was carrying newly elected Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R), a former congressman arriving for Reagan’s funeral. The FAA said it was aware the transponder was partially inoperable, but had been in radio contact with the pilot.

Although the FAA was not showing any unidentified aircraft, officials at its command center near Dulles International Airport were concerned that the transponder could have been turned off by a hijacked pilot to alert controllers, or by terrorists trying to disguise the aircraft’s identify. When the King Air was about 15 miles southwest of the airport, controllers sounded an alert, the FAA said.

Military pilots identified the Kentucky state aircraft about eight miles from DCA and the Black Hawks escorted it to the airport. “It took a few minutes to sort out that the airplane was not a threat,” said a Homeland Security spokesman. “Out of an abundance of caution, security measures were put into place, including the evacuation of the Capitol.”

On a related matter, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, reminded FAA Administrator Marion Blakey that she owes Congress a report on the continuing need for the Washington-Baltimore ADIZ.
Vision 100 required the agency to report to Congress within 30 days of enactment on the necessity for the ADIZ and on efforts to improve operational efficiency. As of July 1, more than six months will have elapsed since the December 12 signing of Vision 100 by President Bush.

“General aviation is an important industry in my state, and I have heard from numerous Kansas pilots on this issue,” said Roberts in a letter to Blakey. “I look forward to receiving this report and I appreciate your assistance on this important issue.”

Meanwhile, the TSA recently released a “technical change” in the Twelve-Five Standard Security Program (TFSSP) that excludes aircraft weighing 12,500 pounds or less from having to participate in the program. The TFSSP “is applicable to scheduled and charter (passenger and cargo) operations to, from, within or outside the U.S. that use aircraft with a maximum certified takeoff weight of more than 12,500 pounds.” Operators that are no longer required to participate in the TFSSP should contact their TSA principal security inspector to be properly removed from the TSA database.

What became known as the “12-5 rule” was created under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA), which was passed on Nov. 16, 2001. ATSA transferred aviation security functions from the FAA to the TSA, and required the Under Secretary of Transportation for Security to implement a security program for charter air carriers with an mtow of 12,500 pounds or more.

Meanwhile, both NBAA and AOPA have voiced strong objections to a bill in the New York state legislature that would impose security regulations on aircraft owners and operators of general aviation airports in the state.

NBAA chairman and interim president Don Baldwin said in letters to New York Gov. George Pataki (R) and the speaker of the House that provisions in the bill conflict with security guidelines for general aviation airports released by the TSA on May 17. These are national guidelines, Baldwin added, reflecting the federal government’s jurisdiction over GA security, as well as safety.

According to NBAA, the New York bill would impose “burdensome restrictions,” including mandatory compliance with the TSA’s GA Airport Security Guidelines, verification of passengers and cargo and development of emergency maps and contacts. NBAA believes that general aviation airport security is a national priority and that the TSA should administer any mandates for security.

Baldwin said that a patchwork of state mandates would diminish various security programs already in place, and could have “a serious impact on the essential balance between national security initiatives and the economy.”

AOPA echoed the message, saying that New York’s proposed security measures are ill-considered. “We want to express our deep concern about any security initiatives being considered for New York’s 145 public-use airports,” AOPA president Phil Boyer said in a letter to Pataki. “Our concern is that the state’s action could diffuse federal efforts and be counterproductive to enhancing security, while at the same time damaging–perhaps permanently–the state’s economy.”