March 2, 2011
By Dan Namowitz
The problem-solving power of open dialog was on display Feb. 26 when some 200 pilots met with FAA officials to seek solutions to deviations occurring in the Leesburg, Va. Maneuvering Area.
The informational meeting at the Leesburg Executive Airport was set by AOPA, the FAA, the Leesburg Airport Commission, and local pilots after the FAA noted increases in deviations from procedures required by a Leesburg notam, and changes in flight-termination procedures for flights in airport traffic-patterns inside the Washington Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA). AOPA reported on the deviations Nov. 18 and urged pilots to review local procedures.
Pilots met with FAA Flight Standards District Office, FAA Safety Team, National Capitol Region Command Center, Potomac Tracon, and airport management officials. They said many deviations occur when pilots use incorrect transponder codes—by failing to change from the prescribed outbound code to the inbound code when required; by squawking 1200 within the SFRA; or by switching to the VFR code before exiting the maneuvering area. Pilots also deviated by entering or exiting the Leesburg Maneuvering Area on a track that cut corners of the airspace.
“AOPA appreciates that key role the FAA played in holding this on-the-scene dialog with pilots. We encourage the other government agencies who maintain security in the SFRA to participate in future open dialogs. These conversations are the key to finding workable solutions, and clearly, pilots are eager participants,” said Brittney Miculka, AOPA manager of security and borders.
Miculka added that the overall Washington, D.C., Air Defense Identification Zone (now the SFRA) has been in existence since February 2003, and was originally drawn as a temporary security measure.
“It would be extremely helpful to see this type of outreach from the FAA at all of the airports and flights schools within the SFRA, and on a more frequent basis. The large number of attendees at Leesburg demonstrated that pilots are diligent and eager to comply with procedures,” she said.
Additional improvements to flight within the SFRA may emerge from Congressional action. Language in the House version of the FAA authorization bill would require the FAA, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, to submit a plan to amend the Washington SFRA aimed at reducing its operational burden on pilots, and improving general aviation access to affected airports in the capital region, Miculka said.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor.
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