Security changes ahead for general aviation

 - August 29, 2007, 7:14 AM

While the FAA was in the process of reducing the size and shape of the Washington, D.C. air defense identification zone (ADIZ), the Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security continued working on mandatory security measures for general aviation.

On August 30 the “mouse ears” pattern of three interconnecting rings around Washington and Baltimore was replaced by a 30-nm-radius circle around the VOR/DME on Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA).

“Our aim is to balance vigilance with new measures that make it easier to track who belongs in this airspace and who does not,” said FAA Administrator Marion Blakey. Coupled with a VFR 180-knot speed restriction, the new measures will make it easier to track authorized flights and identify aircraft that do not comply with the rules.

There will also be an outer ring 60 nm in radius from the DCA VOR/DME, which was created as part of the compromise process to obtain approvals by the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense. In the airspace between the 30-nm outer ring, there will be a VFR speed restriction of 230 knots below 18,000 feet. 

The FAA said the new, more uniform restricted area allows pilots to use a single navigational aid instead of the four that had been in use. It also frees up four public-use general aviation airports and 1,800 sq mi of airspace.

However, the new configuration still leaves 15 public-use airports covered by the ADIZ restrictions. Of these, three are in the flight restricted zone closer to Washington and will remain under heavy restrictions.

The ADIZ requires pilots who operate within that airspace to maintain two-way radio communication with air traffic controllers, be on a flight plan and have a discrete transponder code so they can be tracked for security purposes. To ease operations and communications, the FAA said it will add four new controller positions at the Potomac Tracon.

The ADIZ was implemented via notam in February 2003 with no public comment. It was described as a “temporary” measure to protect the National Capital Region from terrorist attacks in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. When the FAA last year proposed making it permanent via a notice of proposed rulemaking, more than 22,000 pilots filed comments in opposition to the proposals and testified at four public meetings about the hardships the restrictions have caused.

In a letter to AOPA members, president Phil Boyer said the organization considers the reduction of the ADIZ an important step in what will hopefully be elimination or greater reductions of the ADIZ at some point in the future.

Bob Blouin, president of the Greater Washington Business Aviation Association, said, “I am optimistic that this change is part of an ongoing process to reduce and hopefully eliminate overly burdensome flight restrictions in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area.”

In another security development affecting general aviation, Congress passed and President Bush signed the “Improving America’s Security Act of 2007” (H.R.1), which contains provisions dealing with GA security.

It directs the TSA to develop, within one year of enactment, a standardized threat and vulnerability assessment program for GA airports and to implement a program to perform such assessments on a risk-managed approach. Not less than six months after enactment, it directs the TSA to initiate and complete a study of the feasibility of a program to provide grants to operators of GA airports for projects to upgrade security at such airports.

Not later than 180 days after enactment, it also directs the TSA administrator to develop a risk-based system under which GA aircraft are required to submit passenger information and advance notification requirements for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) before entering U.S. airspace and check such information against appropriate databases. CBP will screen arriving passengers and aircraft.

According to NBAA, the TSA is also considering additional security procedures for general aviation operators and over the next few months will closely monitor GA activities. “Unlike most of the TSA’s previous regulatory efforts,” the association said, “the agency has indicated that it would subject this proposal to federal mandates governing the rulemaking process.”

As part of developing a new rule, the TSA will have to quantify both the costs and the benefits of mandating additional security requirements. It will address not only direct costs of compliance such as equipment, personnel time and implementation, but also the cost to operators who may choose to sell their aircraft because of the perceived burden.

The DHS and the White House must approve a rulemaking package before the public will have an opportunity to comment on its merits and shortfalls. “We believe that any proposal that would mandate additional security measures must also include provisions for additional access to airspace and airports equivalent to that of the scheduled airlines,” NBAA said.