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In the year following the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election- one might think that conditions might have eased for operators of private aircraft like those flown by most of the Fortune 500 corporations- and by private individuals.

Dave Higdon   |   1st December 2005
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Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
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Progress comes in two steps forward- one step back.

In the year following the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election- one might think that conditions might have eased for operators of private aircraft like those flown by most of the Fortune 500 corporations- and by private individuals.

You might expect that with the ‘Mission Accomplished’ message for the war in Iraq- issues such as the ill designed- supposedly temporary National Capital Air Defense Identification Zone might be in its last throes of existence.

You might even hope to see general aviation again operating at Washington National Airport (DCA) across the Potomac River from the District of Columbia. As the year 2005 approaches its end- however- you’d likely be more than a little disappointed at the status of security concerning business and private aviation.

In a classic case of the three-step dance – two steps forward- one step back – changes and proposed changes for private aircraft operators has more closely resembled the box step: one step forward- one step sideways- one step back- one step sideways… and repeat.

Progress- while touted by officials at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)- remains illusory- at best- or unmeasurable- at worst. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)- at the behest of the TSA- is- as this is being written- considering a proposal to make permanent the ADIZ around the National Capital Region. Some local politicians are also pressing arguments for their own ADIZ zones to anyone in the power structure who will listen.

A handful of onerous ‘security’ proposals have floated out of the U.S. Congress- some hugely impractical- most very expensive- and none – at least- so far – anywhere close to workable or possibly effective. And the symbol of private aviation’s stepchild status- DCA- has finally re-opened to private general aviation operations – but only under requirements that preclude the vast majority of the fleet from ever going.

To paraphrase something NBAA president Ed Bolen told World Aircraft Sales last month- 'It’s frustrating- to say the least.'

We’ll take a look at what’s advanced – and at what may regress.

DCA Access Program

The first private aircraft flights in more than four years cycled through National Airport on October 18. Aside the highly structured – and somewhat symbolic media opportunity of that October 18 arrival – whether National draws the traffic it is allowed depends largely on whether enough operators decide they can live with the restrictions and pre-access requirements imposed on a solution called unworkable by many in general aviation.

Among the restrictions: A daily limit on the number of general aviation movements at the airport; advance security clearing at one of only 12 so-called gateway airports; advance clearance of crew and passengers by TSA; the presence of an approved- armed- law-enforcement officer on board the aircraft before it departs the gateway airport for DCA- or from DCA for its destination; and money – lots of money. The TSA imposed fees to cover the costs of the pre-screening and the clearances; there are costs for the armed law-enforcement officer for each leg of the trip. And fees for access to the airport. The total can easily exceed $1-000 – per flight.

The major trade associations representing business operators- charter operators and private operators all consider the ‘solution’ too onerous- too expensive and too restrictive to be the ‘final’ solution for DCA. But as NBAA president Ed Bolen noted- 'It’s a first step.' It’s just not a very practical or workable first step to restoring access to DCA- all agree.

And the program imposes some drastic inequities. For example- the same aircraft operated as a private- Part 91 flight- doesn’t enjoy the same access if operated as a private charter flight under Part 135 – even though security restrictions on Part 135 operations are already more stringent. The NATA- for one- is having none of this glaring inconsistency and is pressing DHS and TSA for a resolution that treats Part 135 operations equally with Part 91 flights.

The inside joke is that TSA can easily make 91 and 135 operations equal at DCA – by merely continuing to bar Part 91 flights from National. But that’s no more acceptable now than it has been for the four years the ban has been in effect. It’s no wonder that everyone in the operating the general aviation community continues to work toward a more reasonable access solution for DCA while continuing to attempt to work within the existing framework.

It is- insiders claim- the only way for the TSA to gain experience in dealing with general aviation and- in turn- learn firsthand that private operations are not the threat critics contend they are. And most of association executives express hope that with TSA’s new experience will come more flexibility- more ready access and lower costs.


Several weeks back- the FAA published in the Federal Register a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to make permanent the heretofore temporary Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). The so-called National Capital ADIZ currently encompasses the Class B Airspace zones around Baltimore-Washington International (BWI)- Washington Dulles International (IAD) and National (DCA)- as well as the contiguous airspace between the three control zones.

Because of its scope and structure- this ADIZ encloses more than 3-000 square miles of airspace around Washington- D.C.- Baltimore- and adjacent parts of Maryland and Virginia.

With the approaching end of the public comment period required by law- aviation groups continued to press their members to voice their opposition in the public docket. More than 7-200 responded before this writing- commenting not only to the official docket- but also to their respective members of Congress- to their aviation lobbying groups- and to fellow aviation users.

The comments and conversations share a common goal: beating back what all consider an onerous- unneeded and essentially unworkable imposition.

The FAA has also talked about requiring special training and a logbook endorsement for all pilots who fly into- or out of- the ADIZ. Pilots- operators and their lobbying groups seem to have talked the agency down from that potential nightmare.

But the proposal to convert the National Capital security airspace to permanent from temporary moved ahead with no justification for its existence- no explanation of how it makes the protected area safer- and no details on how the FAA would make it more workable than it has been.

This ADIZ- according to AOPA- is unworkable- places a ‘burden’ on pilots- even more so on controllers- and on the airports and airport businesses within the zone.

From first-hand experience- the ADIZ complicates access to even those airports on the outside edges- often forcing controllers to hold aircraft outside until they can handle additional airplanes or- conversely- requiring controllers to hold aircraft on the ground until their ADIZ traffic load eases. These delays have added close to an hour to the time required for release for IFR flight plans filed more than an hour before the planned departure.

Even Air Traffic Controllers and their union consider the ADIZ an unwise- unworkable- ineffective use of the airspace and their time. They complain the ADIZ over burdens their already overtaxed numbers with the requirement to clear and handle hundreds of additional aircraft once allowed to traverse areas outside the three Class B zones as uncontrolled VFR traffic. How this plays out is anybody’s guess. But a decision by authorities to move forward in the face of such massive opposition will undoubtedly generate more efforts in Congress to undo the damage.


One repeated fear of making permanent the National Capital ADIZ is the encouragement it would give some officials in several cities around the country in their behind-the-scenes efforts to convince the FAA and TSA of the need for similar airspace restrictions around their municipalities.

Chicago officials- in particular- have in the past audibly lobbied federal agencies for special constraints around the Windy City citing their security concerns. The midnight destruction of embattled Meigs Field on Chicago’s lakefront two years ago came with claims that Mayor Richard Daily feared the airport could be used as a base for a terrorist attack.

The canard convinced no one in aviation- since the mayor had long sought to close the airport for construction of yet another lakeshore park. The FAA investigated the closing and levied a $33-000 fine against the city for its actions – a fine Chicago is fighting.

Rumors of other cities quietly lobbying for special flight restriction on business and general aviation continue to ebb and flow. The designation of the Washington ADIZ as permanent is likely to spur further stealth lobbying.

Nonetheless- the FAA has repeatedly spurned such overtures noting that its examinations of circumstances has found no need at any other location outside the National Capital Region.

Legislative watch:

on-again- off-again

So many ‘solutions’ have come and gone that tracking them has become difficult. But in the past year- numerous members of the United States Congress have considered introducing legislation establishing a variety of systems for ‘securing’ private aircraft- their use- their users and their airports.

Some state and local lawmakers have also proposed their own security laws for private aircraft- some requiring nothing more complicated than multiple locks to protect aircraft- others seeking more burdensome systems such as gate controls on all airports – grass strips for antiques- included.

None of these proposals- so far- have garnered the kind of support necessary to advance to consideration; some have vanished as quickly as their supporters’ sound bites faded from the scene. And some have been withdrawn after earnest education efforts by aviation interest groups like AOPA and NBAA. So effective have these education and lobbying efforts been that the din to ‘do something’ had faded considerably in recent months.

But the early October ‘joyride’ theft of a Citation VII by a jet-qualified commercial pilot helped bring airport security back to the forefront scant weeks after the TSA awarded AOPA’s Airport Watch Program a fresh grant to keep it going.

The pilot basically took several friends for a ride in the Citation – in which he was not rated- according to reports – after finding it accessible on one southern airport late one night after he arrived as the co-pilot on a charter flight. He boarded five friends at St. Augustine- Florida- fired up the jet and flew to Gwinnet- Georgia a few hundred miles away outside Atlanta; after landing at the destination airport- the pilot walked away. No one noticed the theft or arrival at either airport. In fact- the Citation’s crew didn’t know the jet had been stolen until they returned to fly the jet two days after they parked it and walked away.

Aviation groups responded by reiterating the importance of securing aircraft to prevent such unauthorized use; security and aviation officials breathed a sigh of relief that the theft was a joyride and not a terrorist plot. The pilot- 22-year-old Daniel Andrew Wolcott- has been arrested and charged. And aviators are holding their breath in anticipation of a new wave of proposals to prevent a repeat of this foolish act.

TSA sundries

Meanwhile- the Transportation Security Administration continues to support the Airport Watch Program launched three years ago by AOPA (as mentioned above). The TSA’s latest show of support came in the form of a proposal to grant the program $275-000 for the distribution of materials outlining ways to secure aircraft- airports and suspicious people who might venture onto an airfield.

TSA already underwrites the cost of the nationwide toll-free number that can route trouble calls directly to the appropriate authorities for the airport involved.

NBAA Security Access Program

As TSA doles out money to one security program- another remains active – but stuck in demonstration mode: NBAA’s security access certificate program.

Conceived after the 9/11 attacks as a way to pre-screen and pre-approve business aviation flights and passengers- the NBAA program holds promise as a way to improve the security of corporate air travel without resorting to the often proposed solution of airline type security checkpoints and screenings at general aviation airports.

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