Washington, D.C. — Recent developments in the Washington area demonstrate just how serious the government is about security matters.
A major announcement was made about reopening Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to general aviation after its closure following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The media carried stories about flights returning. The first general aviation flight arrived to celebrate the reopening just moments after the ban was lifted. It carried aviation leaders who had struggled to get approval for GA to return. Stringent rules were in place: arrivals only permitted from certain airports, air marshal aboard each flight, security clearances for the crews, etc.
Two weeks after the opening of the airport to GA, a check with Signature Aviation, the FBO on the field, revealed the number of general aviation flights arriving during those two weeks was — THREE!
“”We always knew this was just the first step,”" said Dan Hubbard of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) which, along with the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), is pushing for the total return of GA to National. The restraints put on flights wanting to use the airport are just too much for any company or crew to face, Hubbard adds. NBAA is continuing to talk with members of Congress to gain their help in easing the rules.
The second recent indication of how the government is looking at security came when the Transportation Security Administration made a surprise inspection of one of the now famous “”DC 3″” airports and closed it for allegedly not being in compliance with its security plan. These are the three airports close to Washington that were opened under special conditions. TSA closed Potomac Airfield, saying that the airport had been previously notified about its failure to comply with current security regulations.
Potomac Airfield officials, however, dispute the accusation, admitting the security plan doesn’t meet exactly what TSA approves, but adding they believe what they have is more secure than TSA requires.
About 90 airplanes and roughly 400 pilots are affected by the closure. TSA says its personnel will continue to work with the airport to reopen it to properly-cleared pilots.
As the deadline for filing comments to FAA’s proposal to make the Washington ADIZ permanent drew near, EAA filed its comments urging the plan be dropped. AOPA filed a 27-page opposition paper. More than 17,000 comments have been received to the docket. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta announced at the opening of AOPA’s Expo that the time for submitting comments would be extended 90 days and there will be a public hearing on the subject. Extending the deadline permits additional opposition to build, but it also assures the TSA that the ADIZ will definitely stay in place as is for another three months.
Although it is the FAA making the proposal to change the Federal Aviation Regulations, it is the TSA and Homeland Security that will have the final say. In addition, several other government agencies have input to security matters that affect the FAA’s and TSA’s decisions.
Security issues will be with this nation for years to come. Perhaps instead of fighting each individual battle, general aviation would do better to put greater effort into more pilot, public and official education.
But, as one fellow said: “”It’s tough to remember your intent is to drain the swamp when you are up to your waist in snapping alligators.”"
Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.