AOPA President Phil Boyer sent a sharply worded letter to FAA Administrator Marion Blakey protesting the agency's conscious decision to ignore its own regulations and procedures for communicating flight restrictions to pilots.
At issue is the decision made late on September 10, 2002, to close two Washington, D.C.-area general aviation airports (College Park Airport and Potomac Airfield) through September 12, but declining to issue a notice to airmen (notam) advising pilots of the closures.
"The lack of formal notification to pilots through the notam system is unacceptable [original emphasis]," said Boyer in the letter. "Notams provide the only official notification to pilots regarding last-minute changes to the National Airspace System (NAS).
"Further, had pilots consulted the published notams, they would have found notam 2/8367 clearly stating that the airspace around Washington was closed only during the time of the Pentagon ceremony (8:30 to 11:00 local time)."
The problem was compounded on September 12 when the closures were extended an additional day. Again, no notam was issued. The only notification of the closure or the extension of the closure was a last-minute phone call to the two airport managers. Again the FAA failed to use the notam system.
Boyer told Blakey that he hopes this chain of events "is not an indication of what can be expected in the future from the FAA and TSA." He reminded the new FAA administrator that pilots are required by federal aviation regulation to be "familiar with all available information concerning that flight (FAR 91.103)." By not issuing a notam, the only official notification authorized when creating a flight restriction, be it an airport closure or temporarily restricted airspace, the FAA creates a trap for pilots who could unknowingly violate the regulations.
"The association and its members will abide by the ever-changing airspace and airport restrictions, in order to assist the FAA and TSA in contributing to homeland security," said Boyer. "For the safety and security of all, we would appreciate your effort to ensure that this type of situation does not reoccur."
With 385,000 members, AOPA is the world's largest civil aviation organization, with the stated mission of protecting the rights and privileges of all general aviation pilots.