November began on a sour note for pilots at Potomac Airfield (VKX). The Transportation Security Administration issued a letter informing the airport that its security program has been suspended. Simply stated, the airport is closed.
The Maryland airport had been notified recently – and repeatedly, according to Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta – about its failure to comply with current security regulations. As a result of that failure, TSA closed the field, Mineta told a large audience at AOPA Expo, shortly after the order was issued.
Dirk Ahle, TSA’s assistant director of general aviation programs, noted that he had several conversations with Potomac Airfield Manager David Wartofsky about the TSA security program and the fact that the airport was not complying with some of the security procedures that had been developed for the three airports located inside the Washington, D.C., ADIZ.
“He told me he didn’t think it was necessary to take certain precautions because he had other measures in place that he thought could obviate the need for the ones in the TSA security program,” Ahle said. “The TSA program went into effect in March of 2002. All three airports have those procedures. It had been discussed on several occasions that these procedures were required and could not be deviated from.”
Ahle added that a “very specific letter” had been sent to Wartofsky telling him what to do to bring the airport into compliance.
“It is up to him if he wants to comply,” said Ahle, who would not give specifics about the procedures that allegedly had not been complied with because they are security issues. “But it is pretty basic stuff,” he said.
Wartofsky contends that the closure was retaliation for his public challenge to the TSA’s authority to implement security policies.
According to Wartofsky, security procedures were developed by Potomac Airfield after consultation with the CIA, FBI and other government agencies, many of whose people use the airport.
“I have been enhancing security procedures,” he said, noting the procedures in place at Potomac actually go beyond what the TSA requires. “We are continually consulting with security agencies and enhancements are beyond the scope of the TSA plan.”
Wartofsky also alleges that the TSA is overstepping its bounds. “The TSA doesn’t have the authority to sign off on the plan,” he said. “They have been trying to set up a situation where they can extricate themselves from authority without responsibility.”
Wartofsky notes that he has asked Congress to review the statutory authority of TSA to sign off on a private security plan.
Wartofsky has been placing regular updates on the Potomac Airfield website (Potomac-Airfield.com), where he alleges the TSA is inadequately addressing the security issues at airports in the Washington, D.C., ADIZ.