AOPA pressing solutions to D.C. ADIZ problems

March 13, 2003

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AOPA President Phil Boyer (right) talks with a reporter from TV station WJZ about ADIZ recommendations.

Following numerous discussions by AOPA Government and Technical Affairs management with FAA and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials, AOPA President Phil Boyer sent a series of recommendations to the FAA and TSA to help alleviate problems encountered in the Washington, D.C., Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). This area encompasses airspace within a 30-mile radius of Washington. The FAA and TSA told AOPA late Thursday they are "actively considering" the proposals.

Predictions made by AOPA when the ADIZ was established in February proved true when the first weekend of good weather brought out additional flights, overwhelming the air traffic control system. In literally hundreds of instances, the system failed pilots and air traffic controllers. This resulted in confusion, frustration, and, during certain times, absolute gridlock as pilots waited on the ground with engines running or in the air circling for interminable periods of time. The central problem was receiving a special transponder code that permits operations in the Washington, D.C., ADIZ.

The recommendations were established based on the real-world experiences reported to a special e-mail address set up by AOPA in anticipation that there would be problems. More than 150 members responded with their weekend flying experiences, and the association began developing a set of recommendations to address the operational problems to reduce the burden on pilots and controllers, while maintaining security.

In a letter to executives of the FAA and TSA, Boyer proposes four specific suggestions:

  • Reduce the number of requests for transponder codes by assigning discrete codes for each airport within the ADIZ; one for arriving aircraft, a second for departing aircraft, and a third for aircraft staying in the pattern at the airport.
  • Establish corridors to and from each airport for aircraft operations. Also, have a specific radio frequency for pilots to monitor while in the corridor, reducing contact with air traffic controllers to only upon request.
  • Establish a "cutout" of the ADIZ for Bay Bridge Airport, which is at the fringe of the controlled area.
  • General aviation flights not originating in or departing the ADIZ would be encouraged to avoid transiting the ADIZ.

Boyer pledged AOPA's help in getting information to pilots. He said if these important changes are made, "AOPA will work diligently to distribute the information to pilots and to publicize the simplified rules." This would include physically getting posters and other material to the affected airports and extensive use of AOPA's electronic outreach.

The occurrences over last weekend resulted when the air traffic system was unable to support the operational needs of general aviation flights in the area; this, despite diligent work of the staffs in the Baltimore and Potomac tracons. John Carr, president of the controllers association, told Boyer he supports AOPA's solutions but added that if they were not all accepted by the FAA and TSA, additional controllers could be assigned to Baltimore and an unused portion of the new high-tech, state-of-the-art facility, Potomac Tracon.

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