U.S. Customs Service aircraft began patrolling the airspace around Washington, D.C., last Tuesday during the President's State of the Union address. This was the first time Customs exercised its law enforcement role in the new National Capital Region Command Center (NCRCC) airspace. The NCRCC is an interagency command post that facilitates real-time coordination of airspace security and enforcement for the nation's capital. Primary agencies involved in the NCRCC are the FAA, Department of Defense, Transportation Security Administration, and Customs.
Security officials report that there were no violations of the temporary flight restriction area (TFR) during the President's speech.
Last year, AOPA was told that general aviation incursions into the Washington, D.C.-area special flight rule area (SFAR 94) were the driving factor behind creating the NCRCC and a renewed effort to beef up airspace security around Washington, D.C.
Now, instead of the Department of Defense, Customs is enforcing SFAR 94 by flying patrols and tagging and tracking aircraft, similar to the way Customs operates in defense of our borders. Customs flies specially equipped Blackhawk helicopters and Cessna Citations that officials say are better suited to identifying and tracking civilian aircraft than military fighters.
"But border patrol strategies won't work in domestic airspace," said AOPA Senior Vice President Andrew V. Cebula. "Unlike the enforcement of international and ADIZ airspace, Customs should not assume that pilots operating domestically are a threat. Failure to recognize this is going to lead to problems."
AOPA is pressing for the NCRCC to consider the operational realities of domestic general aviation operations as they continue to develop methods for protecting the nation's capital. To that end, AOPA recently met with NCRCC officials to advocate for general aviation safety and access to the Washington-area airspace.