Changes urged for flights to DCA

 - June 1, 2007, 6:53 AM

District of Columbia congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) used a House aviation subcommittee hearing on the Essential Air Service program (EAS)–which ensures air service to smaller communities–as a bully pulpit to call for stepped-up action to make it easier for general aviation aircraft to use Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA).

Norton, a non-voting delegate in Congress representing the city of Washington, said she identifies with small regions that depend on subsidized air service. “I have been there in the worst way,” she told her colleagues on the subcommittee. “Charter service was cut off in the District of Columbia for more than four years [after 9/11].”

Norton pointed out that the bipartisan efforts of the committee eventually got DCA reopened, “but only after every other airport in the United States had long been opened and only after the chairman and ranking member took the stick to [the] TSA.” She said that Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who was chairman of the full Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, put an amendment into a bill “but they ignored it.” 

Once a plan–which includes the DC Access Certificate–was in place, the result was a procedure that makes it nearly impossible for people who want to fly into the airport. One of the biggest negatives, she said, is the requirement that a TSA-approved armed guard be on board.

Fewer than 100 operations have flown into the airport since it became “no longer closed” to business aviation traffic on Oct. 18, 2005, with the ceremonious arrival of a charter flight. The Greater Washington Business Aviation Association’s one-day safety standdown at Signature Flight Support’s FBO at the airport in March probably accounted for the most activity the facility has seen since 9/11.

“We have a couple of operators who have broken the code,” said association president Bob Blouin at the standdown. “Is it perfect? Is it easy? It’s a start.”

More Progress Needed
Norton seemingly disagrees. She wanted to know the status of GA access to the airport and whether any steps are being taken to make it easier for private aircraft to land at the airport.

Norton requested that one of the panelists, DOT deputy assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs Michael Reynolds, draft a letter to subcommittee chairman Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) and ranking member Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.) within 30 days outlining what, if anything, the DOT is doing to make it more convenient for GA operators to land at and take off from DCA.

Norton said the regulation under the DCA Access Certificate requiring a private security guard is, in essence, “the functional equivalent of an air marshal.” To add further insult, she said, passengers on these small airplanes are sometimes forced to be screened twice, first at the point of origin and then at a gateway airport.

“If these requirements have been altered at all, after what is now five years, has the department learned enough so that it can protect us in the ordinary course of business without these Draconian measures?” she asked. Reynolds said he was not familiar with the regulations, which he said were the product of the FAA and the Department of Homeland Security’s TSA. He did, however, promise a written response to her and the subcommittee.