AOPA is questioning a Defense Department exercise over the Washington, D.C., area. The nighttime exercise will send two F-16 fighters to intercept two Civil Air Patrol Cessna 172s over the nation's capital to test procedures for "identifying and confronting hostile aircraft," according to defense officials. The exercise, which has to be conducted in VFR conditions, has been rescheduled to June 5 between 10:30 p.m. and midnight EDT.
"We're extraordinarily disappointed that the military essentially told the press that a Cessna 172 is being viewed as a 'threat' aircraft," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "There is no threat analysis we're aware of that suggests that these light general aviation aircraft represent any significant risk to the public. But the publicity surrounding this exercise can only contribute to the unfounded public paranoia concerning GA aircraft."
AOPA also questioned the coordination of the exercise, noting that senior Transportation Security Administration officials knew nothing about it until it was reported in the press.
AOPA has requested that it be allowed to monitor the exercise, but so far the military has not given its approval.
AOPA's Washington, D.C., Legislative Affairs office contacted members of the Senate and House armed services committees. Some of those members of Congress have already contacted the Defense Department about AOPA's participation.
The association also raised concerns about the safety of the exercise, noting that an intercept is always a risky procedure, particularly when conducted between aircraft having large speed differentials.
"Frankly, if the concern is public safety and security, we wonder why they are conducting this exercise at night over a densely populated area and in one of the busiest air traffic corridors in the nation," said Boyer.