The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is interested in making it easier for corporate aircraft to use Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) and last month held a security summit with industry associations to discuss the issue. Five NBAA members that have overcome the many obstacles to flying into DCA also attended.
After the 9/11 attacks, DCA was closed to general aviation traffic, despite the fact that it was airliners that were used as guided missiles in the attacks. In 2005, the TSA finally developed the DCA Access Standard Security Plan, which allows corporate aircraft to fly into the airport provided they meet strict requirements. These include carrying an armed security officer on every flight, departing from an approved gateway airport where security screening is done, and background checks of the flight crew. In addition the airport has restricted operating hours, requires advance reservations and is limited to 48 such operations per day.
Thus far, average daily operations at the airport are three takeoffs and landings.
TSA manager of the general aviation branch Brian Delauter helped convene the summit. “Brian Delauter brings a practical view to the table regarding use of the airport,” said Doug Carr, NBAA vice president for safety, security and regulation. “The process today is pretty burdensome. He wants to find ways to make it more workable while maintaining the security that the Washington security folks need for this airspace.”
NBAA members who complain about the DASSP have two primary problems with the process. Many operators are not based at portal airports where security checks are done and they do not like having to carry an armed security officer, who is, after all, the only unknown person on the aircraft, Carr pointed out.
“Security is a top priority for business aviation, and we certainly want to continue on our record of working with government officials to ensure that flight security isn’t compromised,” Carr said. “At the same time, there is a general recognition among NBAA members that the requirements for flying into DCA are so onerous that they add up to a de facto prohibition on access to the airport.”
Carr and the NBAA members provided suggestions to Delauter on how to improve the DASSP process, but Carr said he can’t go into detail. “The TSA has indicated that it’s going to analyze these options that we offered and determine which ones it is going to move forward with.” And he cautioned, “I don’t think these are going to be accomplished quickly because of the coordination requirement [with other agencies, particularly the Secret Service].”