Congress stands ready to make security officials explain the continuing need for the Baltimore-Washington Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) when it returns from its summer recess after Labor Day. Included in the FAA reauthorization bill is AOPA-backed language that requires the secretary of Transportation to report every 60 days on why the ADIZ is still needed and what steps the FAA is taking to smooth operations within the zone.
"We've used this tactic before," said AOPA Senior Vice President of Government and Technical Affairs Andy Cebula. "At the end of 2001, some three months after the September 11 terrorist attacks, similar language requiring the government to justify the continuing existence of enhanced Class B airspace led to its eventual removal.
"Without a specific and credible threat, the ADIZ has outlived its wartime need," Cebula continued. "For over a year, the 15-nm Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) around the Washington Monument provided adequate protection for the nation's capital from any generalized terrorist threat. All the ADIZ does is create excessive workload for air traffic controllers, foment aggravation, if not outright anger, among pilots, and cost taxpayers millions of dollars to enforce."
AOPA has been collecting anecdotal evidence of problems caused by the ADIZ and its increasingly common cousin, the 30-nm presidential-movement temporary flight restriction (TFR).
One of the most disturbing stories came from a medevac helicopter pilot who operates in the ADIZ. "We have discrete transponder codes, so only an initial radio contact is necessary. However, we have had numerous problems with the initial contact. On this date, I had to circle two minutes over the hospital I lifted off from with a patient on board. It delayed precious minutes for this patient."
"It stands to reason that if a patient is being transported by helicopter, time is of the essence," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "If the ADIZ system can't even accommodate approved and medically necessary flight operations, then something is terribly wrong."
Another pilot told AOPA that he had to explain to a flight service station briefer outside the Baltimore-Washington area how to file an ADIZ flight plan. Other pilots tell of being stuck either on the ground waiting to take off or in the air waiting to land while air traffic controllers tried to deal with the crush of VFR traffic the system was never designed to handle. One pilot put it succinctly: "TOTAL TIME ON FONE 25 MINUTES. TOTAL TIME FOR ACTUAL FLIGHT 25 MINUTES" [original emphasis].
With President Bush now on the road campaigning both for his legislative agenda and for reelection, more and more of the country is getting a taste of what the ADIZ is like with the frequent 30-nm presidential TFRs that precede the President's arrival.
Following the President's recent trips to Dallas and Houston, AOPA received numerous comments from pilots who talked about overwhelmed flight service stations and frustrated pilots giving up and going home. But the TFR also hit businesses hard. "I work at a local fight school and pilot shop as dispatcher/store manager," said one instrument-rated pilot. "President Bush's visit to Dallas closed us down from 1 p.m. through the rest of our business hours. Our estimated lost revenue just from flights we had to cancel was in excess of $3,000. To a small flight school, this is a big blow."
"No one, least of all AOPA or pilots, is suggesting that the government should not take action to prevent terrorism or protect the President," said Boyer. "But just because you can impose or continue security-related flight restrictions doesn't address the question of whether you should.
"The ADIZ justification language in the FAA reauthorization bill will force security officials to step back and take a critical look at the need for the restriction. And hopefully, it will make the same officials rethink the need for the huge presidential TFRs."