ALL IFR AND VFR GENERAL AVIATION FLIGHTS ARE PROHIBITED WITHIN THE NATIONAL AIRSPACE SYSTEM UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. Never did I think I would see a notam that read like this. As the ultimate optimist, and one who has spoken today with both the secretary of Transportation and the FAA administrator, I can only continue to hope their promise of reopening the NAS for general aviation is real. Yes, we are in the early recovery phases of a crisis that occurred in our country, but the line of communication within the FAA itself, and other government agencies, has produced an aviation crisis in its own right.
Throughout the morning, the news media touted an FAA official notam that indicated airspace would be open to all aviation users at 1500Z. AOPA verified this, downloaded a copy from DUATS, and placed it on our Web site. Within minutes, I received a call from a high-level FAA manager indicating the subject of GA was still under review. Reluctantly, and with great disappointment, we changed our Web posting to indicate caution. However, pilots obtaining a legal briefing got the notam, filed flight plans, and, in some cases, even departed at 1500Z. Unknowingly, they violated the 1457Z notam prohibiting all GA flights. The horror stories now are unfolding. Corporate chiefs who had been told by flight crews they could depart at 11 a.m. taxied out and then were turned around by the tower.
Some flights did get into the air, but don't count them lucky. F-16s intercepted not only corporate aircraft and demanded they land immediately, but in Texas, a student and flight instructor returned to home base after a similar intercept. When we first became aware of the possibility this could happen, our senior vice president of government and technical affairs, Andy Cebula, made contact with the head of FAA Flight Standards and obtained his pledge that no one caught in this mixed-up notam mess would be subject to an enforcement action.
"Chaos" is the best way to describe the FAA environment that your association is working in. Flight service stations are offering varied information to pilots, sometimes contradicting what FAA headquarters has issued. Segment by segment, it appears that users will be returned use of the airspace system. Next could be Part 135, better known as charter flights to you and I. We expect word in late afternoon, and our primary concern is the return of basic VFR privileges. When I was informed that some of the delay in a decision was being caused by one or two politicians, I asked your AOPA Legislative Affairs staff to contact their offices and "educate" them on GA. That is happening as I write. When a truck loaded with explosives blew up the federal office building in Oklahoma City, we didn't ban cars, but there was sure a lot of scrutiny about trucks parked in other locations. Why ban the aviation equivalent of cars, general aviation aircraft flown for business and personal use?
I have another call into Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, and your AOPA staff continues to remain totally focused on getting us all back into the air. This is sure one of those days (weeks) that I wish that I could swap jobs with one of you. To make matters worse, the weather is severe clear—a perfect day to fly; however, for the moment that freedom has been taken away.