FAA mulls Washington ADIZ change

 - April 30, 2007, 10:58 AM

While legislation that would direct the Transportation Security Administration to study the vulnerability of general aviation airports to terrorist acts is dragging through Congress, there is talk in the GA community about possible changes to the widely reviled Washington, D.C., air defense identification zone (ADIZ). The ADIZ now covers 3,700 sq mi that closely follow the Washington-Baltimore Class B airspace.

The FAA is in the midst of a rulemaking process to define any airspace rules and regulations for the nation’s capital. The agency is still reviewing roughly 22,000 comments on the proposal–more than 20,000 of which were negative and called for abolition of the ADIZ–and has until July to make a final decision. But that could be extended.

Following a Potomac Tracon seminar for local pilots early last month, reports surfaced that the ADIZ might become slightly smaller but more cumbersome for pilots and controllers.

The revised ADIZ would replace the current Mickey Mouse ears-shaped ADIZ with a 30-nm-radius circle around the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) Vortac. The change would exempt four Maryland airports from the ADIZ airspace. It would also permit less restrictive procedures at Leesburg and Manassas airports in Virginia. But some other surrounding GA airports would be subject to more onerous regulations.

“This particular scenario was given by the FAA to pilots and matches some of the other intelligence my staff has been reporting,” said AOPA president Phil Boyer. “We are concerned because the rumored solution would continue to place requirements on nearly 1,700 based aircraft and 15 public-use airports.”

A pilot who attended the session at Potomac Tracon said that complete positive control will be required of all aircraft operating within the as-yet-unnamed airspace, and a clearance will be needed to enter it and to take off into it.

“The controllers told us right up front that even though they and the FAA management lobbied hard for a solution that made sense, the security folks calling the shots really don’t care,” he told AIN. “At first, FAA management and rank-and-file thought that perhaps the problem was that the people driving the changes just don’t understand the complexity of air traffic control. Now, after many months of meetings and discussions, it is apparent that they do indeed understand, but they just don’t care.”

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a long-time supporter of and active participant in general aviation, hit a wall last fall when he called a closed-door hearing with representatives of the Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Department and the FAA to discuss abolishing the ADIZ.

The security officials emphasized their concern about protecting key people and buildings from aerial attack. The commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command said his radar operators and fighter pilots would prefer a 150-nm-radius ADIZ to give them enough time and distance to react to hostile aircraft.

Said a pilot based at Montgomery County Airpark (GAI), 20 nm north-northwest of DCA, “Basically, for me to fly out of GAI, I’ll have to operate just like IFR traffic, with a full clearance and positive control all the way to and from the edge of the ADIZ airspace. If things get busy, VFR traffic will have to wait in line behind IFR traffic.”