TSA’s plan to reopen Reagan National blasted

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is trying to match the wants of general aviation, politicians and businesses with its responsibility to maintain a high level of security for the nation’s capital, but is getting heat from all sides.

Prompted by TSA’s plan to open Washington’s Reagan National Airport to general aviation, the full Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a hearing where senators and general aviation spokesmen alike called the coming rules too harsh. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the committee, warned that the rules being finalized by TSA to open the airport to GA are too cumbersome and costly.

Under the TSA’s rules, before landing at DCA, an aircraft and persons aboard would have to be cleared at one of 12 portal airports and carry a law enforcement officer from that point to Washington National. The operator of the aircraft would then have to pay for the officer to return to home base. There also would be a charge of $150 for landing and another $150 for departure. Jim Coyne, president of the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), estimated the total cost would be at least $700.

Stevens, who noted that 78% of intercity travel in his home state of Alaska is by general aviation, declared the efforts to open DCA were long overdue, but cautioned that as now planned “”are just going to kill private aviation”” because of costs.

Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) questioned the need for an armed guard and pointed out that with only 12 airports available for picking up a guard, many flights would have to backtrack, possibly hundreds or thousands of miles, from their departure point to be cleared and board a law-enforcement officer. He and Stevens also cited limited seating in corporate and on-demand charter aircraft, which would restrict the number of passengers.

Joseph Fleming, TSA’s chief operating officer, replied that a law-enforcement officer is needed because the cockpit of the plane cannot be sealed off from the passenger section.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) complained to each witness that he was more concerned about the 212,000 general aviation aircraft throughout the United States that are flying without any screening or monitoring. “”The airplane is the weapon of choice for terrorists,”” he said. NATA’s Coyne politely replied that terrorists had used railroads in Spain, boats in the Middle East, subways in Japan, ambulances — and even bicycles — but never has a general aviation aircraft been used.

Andy Cebula, senior VP of government and technical affairs at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), told the committee that AOPA’s members are worried that security requirements are adversely affecting their ability to fly by reducing access to airports and airspace. He said the ADIZ around Washington — covering some 2,000 square miles — has more than tripled the workload on controllers and doesn’t work. He reminded the panel that the ADIZ was set up when the threat level was raised, but was not eased when the level was lowered.

Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), reminded the Senators that general aviation has voluntarily done much to implement security measures.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) echoed some of Rockefeller’s concerns about the alleged potential dangers from general aviation, but others on the committee urged TSA not to make rules so cumbersome and expensive that planes cannot come to Washington. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) advised that barriers to general aviation should not “”be so high that they are difficult to meet.””

Allen summed it up as he told the TSA and FAA witnesses that rules for general aviation should be “”reasonable, rational and practical.””

Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.

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