GA groups outraged over DHS advisory, more TFRs

 - October 11, 2007, 6:39 AM

General aviation interests expressed consternation over a May 1 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) advisory warning the GA community against planned Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks using “light aircraft,” issued even as new TFRs covering a peripatetic President Bush continue to disrupt day-to-day operations.

The National Air Transportation Association (NATA) was by far the most vocal, expressing “outrage” at both the wording and the timing of DHS Advisory 03-019, which it described as fundamentally flawed. “It includes obvious errors and unjustified pseudo-threats about general aviation operations and, in particular, charter operations,” railed NATA president Jim Coyne. “I am mystified by how DHS officials would allow such a document to be released. It represents an egregious abuse of government authority.”

While expressing support for heightened vigilance, AOPA president Phil Boyer said the organization was “very concerned about the sweeping generalizations in the DHS advisory that aren’t necessarily accurate.” For example, the advisory states that a GA aircraft “loaded with explosives is the equivalent of a medium-size truck bomb.”

That is far from reality for the majority of GA aircraft, said AOPA, which pointed out that the typical GA aircraft can only carry several hundred pounds. The “medium-size truck bomb” that killed six people in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing weighed 1,500 pounds.

Meanwhile, members of Congress joined GA in decrying the new Presidential movement TFRs. The FAA issued a notam on May 2, three days before President Bush’s visit to Little Rock, Ark.; it prohibited all GA operations at the airport for the 2 hr 45 min period of the TFR. Previous Presidential TFRs allowed for ingress and egress of aircraft, provided they were on either a VFR or IFR flight plan, were squawking an ATC-assigned discrete beacon code and maintained constant two-way radio contact with ATC. And that was during a high-risk code orange alert. At press time the national threat level had once again returned to orange.

The newest TFR notam came under a lesser-threat, code yellow (elevated) alert. It banned all GA operations below 18,000 feet within 13 nm of Little Rock Airport. “The inconsistency of issuing more restrictive TFRs during lower levels of alert is deeply troubling,” said NBAA president Jack Olcott. “No one seems to realize the impact of this inconsistent language.” He argued that the McDill TFR should be the template for a Presidential TFR since it provided protection under code orange alert.

The Presidential TFRs are created whenever the President travels outside Washington, D.C., and are certain to ramp up as Bush travels around the country to sell his legislative proposals and begins campaigning for the 2004 election.

The new version states that military, law enforcement, emergency medical services, regularly scheduled commercial passenger and cargo aircraft may operate, but precludes Part 91 and most Part 135 aircraft.

Pilots in north-central Maryland face a Presidential TFR nearly every weekend because of President Bush’s increasing use of the retreat at Camp David, but vast amounts of airspace also are restricted periodically around his Texas ranch and his father’s home in Maine. Currently, when the President is at Camp David, the prohibited area P-40 protects the area in a 10-nm radius. But security officials have proposed making it a 30-nm radius.

That size TFR area would stretch from Pennsylvania to Virginia and West Virginia, affecting operations at about a dozen airports, and would leave a corridor less than 10 nm wide between the Camp David restricted airspace and the 15-nm no-fly zone around Washington. And access to even that narrow gap would be restricted, because it falls entirely within the Washington ADIZ. That has gotten the attention of four members of Maryland’s congressional delegation, who have written letters to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge questioning the proposal.

DHS Advisory ‘Irresponsible’
NATA, which represents the charter industry, complained in a sharply worded letter to Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security, that
the DHS advisory presented an irresponsible picture of the air charter and general aviation industry, and demonstrated the inability of government officials to distinguish between private, non-commercial flight operations and those of certified commercial air charter operators subject to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations.

Noting that NATA has spent 20 months working with the TSA to educate it about the industry and how it works, Coyne fumed, “This advisory makes it abundantly clear that the TSA has not been listening to what we have been saying and doing all this time. This advisory is an outrageous insult to everyone in this industry.”

But air charter operators–at least those who want to resume flights into Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)–did receive some heartening news last month.

In discussions leading up to preliminary approval of the Aviation Security Technical Corrections and Improvement Act, the House aviation subcommittee included a requirement for the DHS to “issue regulations allowing nonscheduled air carriers to operate at [DCA] under a security program” approved by the agency.

It would take effect 30 days after passage of the bill, the primary purpose of which is to make technical corrections to existing law to reflect the fact that the TSA has moved from the DOT to the DHS. But it contained other related provisions, including:

• Changes the rules to better enable U.S. flight schools to accept foreign students who have undergone a background check.

• Provides U.S. pilots a right to appeal the revocation of their pilot certificate for security reasons.

• Creates a pilot program for cargo security and allows cargo pilots to be armed.

• Requires the TSA to develop within a year a “trusted traveler” program to speed members through security.

• Allows stadium banner towing to resume if the pilot undergoes the same background check as Part 135 pilots.

“Finally, this bill would allow small charter flights once again to fly into Reagan National,” said House aviation subcommittee chairman Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.). “They would have to comply with a security plan, such as stopping at another airport to be cleared before flying on to D.C.”

NATA said the move is justified because of the TSA-mandated security program implemented by nonscheduled commercial operators as of April 1. “With all nonscheduled commercial air carriers operating aircraft weighing 12,500 pounds or more now required to comply with a federal security program,” said Coyne, “we believe that this class of operator is on par with and may very well exceed the security of scheduled airlines at Washington National.”

‘Patchwork’ Security
In another security issue directly involving GA, the TSA formed a general aviation working group to develop security guidelines for GA airports. The TSA wants a unified set of recommendations across the spectrum of GA airports to prevent a “patchwork” of state and local security regulations, which the agency warns could pose unnecessary burdens on some airport owners and operators while leaving security gaps at other locations.

Pamela Hamilton, acting manager of the GA policy division of the TSA, said the GA airports security initiative was in response to state requests for federally endorsed guidelines, and she added that “our intent is not to regulate.”

The GA working group was created by the TSA’s Aviation Security Advisory Council (ASAC), which also established three separate working groups to discuss the various security concerns confronting air-cargo operators. Co-chaired by Ed Bolen, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), and Henry Ogrodzinski, president and CEO of the National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO), it was to hold its first meeting at press time. It also includes representatives from NBAA, NATA, Helicopter Association International, AOPA, Experimental Aircraft Association and the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE).

The GA airports group will build on existing security recommendations such as those developed by NASAO and AAAE, and its first task will be to categorize all GA airports–public and private. “We need some form of discretion there,” Ogrodzinski told AIN. “There’s a big difference between Teterboro and some backcountry grass strip.”