President's Position: NIMBY
AOPA President Phil Boyer's home airport is 8 nautical miles from the edge of the Washington, D.C. ADIZ.
In this same space last month I wrote about problems being encountered because a few errant pilots had deeply penetrated Washington, D.C., airspace, causing three evacuations of the Capitol buildings in less than six weeks. In my concluding comment, I reminded members that if we don't participate in the solution, we might not like the national and local solutions handed to us. Before AOPA Pilot had been printed and mailed, this prediction came true. A Senate amendment was circulated calling for a fine of $100,000, a five-year pilot certificate revocation, and confiscation of the aircraft for any pilot causing an evacuation of the Capitol. To make matters even worse, a House proposal would trigger an up-to-$5,000 fine for an inadvertent incursion of the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).
The FAA and other agencies created the D.C. ADIZ over a weekend in February 2003 in response to an increase in the national threat level alert and the pending hostilities in Iraq. This temporary restriction, now more than two-and-a-half-years old, limits GA access under 18,000 feet in roughly the footprint of the Baltimore/Washington Class B airspace, and extends security measures outside of the pre-existing 15-mile Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ) established right after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The airspace impacts 19 general aviation airports and at its widest point, across the southeast-northeast axis, the ADIZ spans a distance of about 90 miles.
To fly in the ADIZ pilots must follow strict requirements that include filing special ADIZ flight plans, squawking a discrete transponder code, and maintaining two-way communication with air traffic control (ATC). Failure to do so could result in being intercepted by jet fighters or the ultimate penalty, being shot down! This penalty makes the pending legislation look tame.
To make matters worse the FAA has not provided enough additional controllers or phone lines to handle what amounts to up to triple the volume of air traffic requiring services, or nearly 900,000 operations annually.
"Not in my backyard" (NIMBY), you might think. While we could argue that Washington, D.C., is unique, anyone who operates out of an airport underneath or within the 30 Class B airspace areas around the country could conceivably face an ADIZ. Government officials might even justify implementing one as a temporary measure to some perceived aviation vulnerability, like Mayor Richard Daley has tried on numerous occasions with Chicago airspace.
What if there were an ADIZ replacing Class B in your area? For instance, if the Los Angeles Basin and its Class B became an ADIZ, some 26 general aviation airports would be trapped, with 8,400 based aircraft and more than 3 million operations, three times the number of GA operations that occur annually in the D.C. area.
In the Washington ADIZ the operational horror stories come in to AOPA daily. An aircraft departing a GA airport was notified by ATC that the transponder was not working. The transponder was cycled several times. The pilot was told to depart the ADIZ, and notified that he would not be allowed back in. The pilot notified departure that the aircraft would return immediately to Leesburg, Virginia, the base airport for the aircraft, in order to have it fixed. He was less than two miles away from the airport at that time. Upon landing, the pilot was notified that landing does not constitute departing the ADIZ—the FAA is pursuing an investigation and enforcement action against the pilot.
It gets worse. The operator of a medical helicopter legally departed an airport inside the ADIZ. The helicopter was observed by controllers to be in the vicinity of the airport transmitting the proper squawk code. The aircraft remained in constant communications with air traffic control; however, during the flight the transponder momentarily reset, causing it to squawk the wrong code for a period of less than two minutes. When notified, the pilot immediately corrected the code. Unfortunately, the incident has resulted in the FAA's proposing to suspend this pilot's flight privileges for 30 days.
The FAA has tracked more than 1,900 ADIZ violations since 2003. None of the incidents has been determined to be terrorist related and all but one violation have been inadvertent.
AOPA had anticipated what happened in early August when the FAA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to make the ADIZ permanent. Fortunately the process allows for a 90-day comment period, and rest assured that your association is already preparing a lengthy and researched submission. It also is our intent to ask you to submit comments to the federal docket, wherever you live. Exact details and suggested comments will be sent to you by mail in the next 45 days. AOPA recognizes that some airspace restrictions may be necessary for reasonable national security concerns, whether in the nation's capital or elsewhere. But changing the D.C. Class B airspace into a permanent new designation only sets the precedent for this to be duplicated elsewhere. If you believe "not in my backyard" with regard to permanent security airspace, please respond to my call to action in the coming weeks.