NATA’s Coyne vows to play hardball over DCA access

 - January 8, 2008, 5:41 AM

Suggesting that many of the new aviation rules issued in the name of security may be unconstitutional, National Air Transportation Association president Jim Coyne recently called on the industry to play “hardball” over some of the more onerous restrictions, including the lack of access to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA).

While Coyne acknowledged that NATA has seen “very positive change” at the top of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) since retired Coast Guard Adm. James Loy became the agency’s boss early last summer, he admitted at this point “all that we can honestly say is that we are hopeful that the mistakes that were made in the early part of 2002 will not be repeated.”

He said the aviation industry must educate the American public and policymakers that imposing obstacles to aviation is the wrong way to fight terrorism. Aviation was not the problem, he said; the problem was terrorists.

“If the American anti-terrorism efforts are focused primarily on trying to solve transportation issues, or airport issues, or airplane issues or even car and truck and airplane issues, they’re going to be missing the boat,” Coyne declared, adding that NATA wants to persuade the TSA and the Bush Administration to aggressively shift the approach for this year’s security agenda.

Coyne also said NATA is “encouraged” by the nomination of Asa Hutchinson, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), as the TSA’s undersecretary for border and transportation security. He characterized the former Arkansas congressman as a long-time friend of NATA.

Nevertheless, Coyne said he remains concerned that the heightened security pressures on aviation are going to continue to negatively affect the industry’s profitability. The actions of the government have hurt the ability of both the airline industry and general aviation to do the jobs the American people want them to do, he asserted.

“Without profit, our whole industry may follow the path of United Airlines,” he continued. “We have got to get the message to the White House, to the DOT, to the TSA and Homeland Security that this is a fragile industry right now.”

Saying that NATA has “taken great pride in being the voice of business aviation,” Coyne vowed it would become even more aggressive than in the past. “I think it’s important now for the aviation community to start moving on the offense,” he said. “I believe this is the year to go hardball on National Airport.”

He termed DCA’s continuing closure to general aviation aircraft both “outrageous” and “a crime,” and he characterized temporary flight restrictions, no-fly zones and other airspace prohibitions as “stupid.”

According to Coyne, there is a good argument to be made that many of these restrictions are unconstitutional, such as altitude limits over sporting events and outright bans at some airports.

“Will someone explain to me why an airplane flying at 3,001 feet is safe, while one at 3,000 feet is not safe?” he asked. “Why is an airplane taking off from National Airport more dangerous than one taking off from Richmond? How do any of these TFRs significantly protect the American public?”