Airspace restrictions and procedures implemented around Washington, D.C., after the 9/11 terrorist attacks now are permanent, under a final rule issued by the Federal Aviation Administration on Dec. 15. The FAA justified the permanent Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) – now re-named Special Flight Rules – as necessary “in order to make the region safer and more secure.”
The secure airspace comprises two concentric rings, the FAA’s announcement of the permanent SFR said. The interior ring, called the Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ), is a 15-nautical-mile radius around Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). The outer ring, called the Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA), describes a 30-nautical-mile radius around DCA.
Operations within the FRZ are restricted to flights authorized by the FAA and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Within the SFRA, a pilot must file a flight plan, establish two-way radio communications with air traffic control, and operate the aircraft’s transponder on the transponder code assigned by ATC.
The permanent SFRA is smaller than the Air Defense Identification Zone that initially went into effect in February of 2003, the announcement pointed out. At that time it comprised airspace extending 23 miles from each of the three major Washington metropolitan area airports: DCA, Dulles (IAD) and Baltimore-Washington International (BWI). The FAA reduced the dimensions of the ADIZ in August 2007, freeing up approximately 1,800 square miles of airspace that included 33 airports and helipads, but only following great pressure from general aviation organizations and Congress. The FAA takes credit, now, for “significantly [reducing] the economic impact to the general aviation community.”
The move to a smaller and more uniform SFRA “addressed many of the issues identified in the more than 22,000 public comments on the agency’s proposal to make the airspace and operating procedures permanent,” the announcement claimed, although AOPA and other GA organizations continue to dispute that.
The FAA coordinated the changes with the departments of Homeland Security and Defense, which are directly responsible for ensuring security in the Washington area. “This rule will help air traffic controllers and security agencies monitor air traffic by identifying, distinguishing and responding appropriately if an aircraft deviates from its expected flight path or is not complying with instructions from controllers,” the FAA announcement concluded.