In the name of security, GA treated as ‘stepchild’

 - January 31, 2008, 4:10 AM

With the U.S. terrorist threat level lowered from orange (high risk) to yellow (elevated risk) on April 17, the question then became when–if ever–will the Air Defense Identification Zones (ADIZ) imposed over Washington, D.C., and New York City be rescinded?

That was partially answered later the same day when the ADIZ for New York was canceled. Although the Washington ADIZ remains in effect, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said that operators who previously were issued a waiver to fly in Washington’s flight restricted zone could reapply for such a waiver.

The TSA also lifted a temporary flight restriction (TFR) over parts of downtown Chicago for VFR aircraft under 3,000 feet and reinstituted waivers for some sporting events.

When the first ADIZ was ordered for the national capital area during an orange alert in early February, it was believed that the measure was temporary. But it has remained, and when the government resorted to another orange alert on March 17 just days before the start of the war in Iraq, the New York City area was added.

Pilots filing IFR are not affected, save for a little inconvenience. NBAA has advised members that flight plans operating into or out of an ADIZ must be filed by telephone with an FSS facility or through a flight-planning service provider that has a direct feed into the FAA computer system.

But TFRs are another matter. NBAA is working with the TSA on TSA Access Certificates (TSAACs), which could ultimately give certificate holders access to selected airspace affected by TFRs. Last month the TSA approved the first six TSAACs to six Part 91 operators based at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. The first step will be for the operators to serve as security protocol proof-of-concept examples for international flights.

Early last month, Doug Schwartz, chairman of the NBAA security council, said the purpose of the TSAACs will be to achieve and maintain access to airspace and airports on the same level as the scheduled airlines, without being hamstrung by TFRs and other restrictions ordered during periods of heightened alert. Schwartz, director of aviation for AT&T, said that pop-up TFRs, such as those over bridges or other vulnerable sites, could affect approach procedures and create “the uncertainty of being able to deliver our product” to our companies.

Now the Defense Department has requested an increase in the size of restricted airspace surrounding the president, a move that drew strong rebuke from AOPA. The DOD has asked that the so-called “Presidential movement” TFR area be expanded from a 10-nm radius to a 30-nm radius.

Noting that the change “does not appear to be in response to any specific credible threat, nor does it address any ongoing security concern posed by general aviation,” AOPA said in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, “Security officials, who have shown little interest in understanding the general aviation flight environment, are pushing for this increase (and in fact have been pushing for it for over a year) simply because they want it, without any justification or even support from the [TSA] and the [FAA].”

AOPA pointed out that a 30-nm-diameter ring around the presidential retreat at Camp David, Md., would cover 11 public-use airports, including AOPA’s home field of Frederick Airport, the second busiest airport in Maryland. It would also affect Hagerstown Regional Airport, the fifth busiest in the state.

Although GA aircraft have never been used in a known act of terrorism, this aviation segment continues to be a convenient whipping boy for politicians. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley cited security concerns when he dug up the runway at Meigs Field, and Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.), who wants a 15-nm “no-fly” zone for GA aircraft around New York City.

But Ridge blew Daley’s cover, saying his agency was never consulted over whether the lakefront airport presented a security threat to the city, and Rothman later backtracked somewhat, telling AOPA president Phil Boyer that he wanted only to preserve Teterboro Airport, which would be inside the ring, as a GA-only facility.

At a House aviation subcommittee hearing on April 9, Rep. Sue Kelly (R-N.Y.) said “general aviation should not be regarded as a stepchild,” and former chairman Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.) said “the subcommittee needs to do a better job in letting the general public know how important general aviation is.”

Several GA associations testified at the hearing that federal preemption is needed on security matters. Since then, the TSA and FAA have issued letters that say federal law preempts state laws when it comes to aviation security, and efforts by individual states are not permissible.