AOPA files comments on FAA proposal to make ADIZ permanent

November 11, 2009

AOPA files comments on FAA proposal to make ADIZ permanent
Reflecting a record number of member comments, association urges FAA to remove restrictions, investigate better alternatives

Editors: An Executive Summary of AOPA's 27-page comment filing is included at the end of this news release.

The Washington, D.C., Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) is ineffective, operationally and financially burdensome, a threat to aviation safety, and unnecessary in light of advances in security; it should be eliminated or dramatically modified, AOPA told the FAA in comments filed Wednesday on the agency's proposal to make the ADIZ permanent.

AOPA also expressed its opposition to the idea of making permanent a "temporary" security measure that was created with no analysis or public comment - a security measure that turns the same tactics used to protect U.S. borders during the Cold War against law-abiding citizens in the heart of the nation's capital.

"It raises the very serious question for pilots across the country, 'Have the terrorists won when we apply security requirements internally that are designed to protect our borders?'" AOPA President Phil Boyer wrote on behalf of the association.

AOPA's formal comments present carefully reasoned, legally based arguments against the ADIZ permanent, including:

  • The ADIZ was intended to be temporary and was enacted with no public comment or review;
  • It has never been subjected to rigorous analysis;
  • It doesn't meet the legal requirements for review and analysis of alternatives;
  • It creates significant safety hazards and operational concerns for pilots;
  • It adversely affects the economic interests of airports and businesses that rely on light aircraft;
  • There has never been a detailed analysis of the true threat level or consideration of appropriate responses;
  • And there have been dramatic improvements in general aviation security since 9/11.

In its comments, AOPA urges the FAA to take a hard look at the ADIZ and consider whether it can be eliminated, or whether less burdensome alternatives can be put in place to maintain an equivalent level of security. The comments also reiterate AOPA's request for public meetings with the FAA, DHS, and other security agencies so officials can hear firsthand about the problems caused by the ADIZ.

"For those pilots who live and work in the area, the existing ADIZ flight restrictions are a daily problem," Boyer wrote. "For members who live outside of Washington, D.C., the proposal to make the flight restrictions permanent raises a substantial concern that the FAA will use them as a template for establishing similar restrictions in the airspace around other major cities."

A better solution, AOPA suggests, would be to maintain the existing Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ) requirements and eliminate the ADIZ entirely or modify it so that procedural requirements apply only to larger, faster aircraft and not light general aviation airplanes - all without making the ADIZ permanent.

AOPA's comments point out a wide range of problems with the ADIZ - starting with the fact that it has never been subject to the rigorous analysis required by law. It was hastily put together over a weekend with little forethought to its operational complexity or financial impact.

And, Boyer points out, the more than 17,000 comments filed by individuals demonstrate the very real day-to-day problems with the ADIZ. Those problems include compromised safety as over-worked air traffic controllers struggle to deal with requirements the system was never designed to handle, long wait times for transponder codes and clearances, complex communication requirements, and the very real threat of being shot down for an unintentional airspace violation or equipment malfunction.

The FAA's proposal also does not take into account the many security improvements that have been implemented since 9/11 - improvements that AOPA believes provide greater security than the ADIZ. Those improvements include the installation of ground-based missile systems, more nimble air interdiction capability, the creation of an interagency air security coordination center, and new pilot screening requirements, as well as a host of voluntary programs, like AOPA's Airport Watch and the TSA's general aviation security guidelines.

The comments also point out that while the ADIZ prevents many pilots from going about routine operations, it would do little or nothing to stop a determined attacker. At the same time, "Unintentional violations of the ADIZ airspace occur on an almost daily basis, raising the question of whether the ADIZ provides any meaningful increase in security," Boyer wrote.

Further, the FAA has not considered the true economic costs of the ADIZ, which include tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue and taxes, and more than 130 lost jobs.

According to an independent economic impact study commissioned by AOPA, the ADIZ is hindering - and in some cases reversing - the recovery of airports and businesses within its 3,000-square-mile footprint.

"If the ADIZ is not modified, it could permanently jeopardize the economic viability of general aviation operations in the Washington area," Boyer wrote.

The more than 407,000 members of AOPA make up the world's largest civil aviation association. AOPA is committed to striking a common-sense balance that fulfills national security needs while protecting aircraft owners and pilots from overly burdensome regulations.

Executive Summary of AOPA comments

In Washington, D.C., more than 10,000 pilots (8,000 of which are AOPA members) are based at airports in the area. These pilots, as well as those not based in the area, conduct approximately 80 percent of the 900,000 operations annually from 19 public-use airports in the region. For those pilots who live and work in the area, the existing ADIZ flight restrictions are a daily problem. For members who live outside of Washington, D.C., the proposal to make the flight restrictions permanent raises a substantial concern that the FAA will use them as a template for establishing similar restrictions in the airspace around other major cities.

AOPA believes that the NPRM would make permanent a number of requirements that are difficult for general aviation pilots to meet, and which have already caused many pilots to reduce or stop flying in the Washington area altogether. The procedural requirements of the ADIZ, which were developed originally as temporary security measures with no public input, have had a substantial effect on the airports and businesses in the National Capitol Region, and have dramatically increased the workload on air traffic controllers - with minimal security benefit.

AOPA opposes the NPRM in its current form. The FAA must not implement the NPRM as a final rule, but should modify the existing flight restrictions. AOPA contends that the FAA can maintain the special safety and security needs of the region, but also better accommodate the practical needs of those who live and work and need access to the area.

AOPA believes that the Washington, D.C., area can be protected through a combination of the existing requirements of the 15-mile Flight Restricted Zone ("FRZ"); the existing temporary ADIZ requirements should either be eliminated or modified to apply only to larger, faster aircraft; and a new, simpler set of requirements applicable to slower, lighter aircraft. In the time since the existing requirements were first introduced, security in the region has been augmented by other measures, including ground-based missile systems, more nimble air interdiction capability with U.S. Customs helicopters, a laser warning system, and establishment of an interagency air security coordination center.

In addition, the pre-existing air traffic control requirements of the already highly restrictive Class B controlled airspace around Ronald Reagan Washington National, Dulles International, and Baltimore-Washington airports also aid in the surveillance of light aircraft. In AOPA's view, the FAA should implement safer, smarter, and more efficient security procedures for the airspace in the Washington, D.C., area. Logically, lighter aircraft, flying at slower speeds, do not pose the same threat as larger, faster aircraft, and therefore should not be subject to the same flight restrictions. The FAA should examine whether the current ADIZ requirements of filing a flight plan, obtaining a unique transponder code, and maintaining two-way communications with air traffic control should be modified for slower, lighter aircraft. The NPRM does not analyze that issue.

In Vision 100, Congress required the FAA to report every 60 days on the need for the ADIZ, and required the FAA to describe ways the ADIZ could be improved to increase operational efficiency and to minimize impacts on pilots and controllers. The FAA has essentially ignored that legal requirement, and the NPRM ignores it again. In light of the FAA's previous failure to perform the operational analysis required by Vision 100, AOPA requests that the FAA give serious consideration to the alternatives discussed in these comments.

05-4-025

November 3, 2005