AOPA President Phil Boyer told Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty on Friday that there is absolutely no reason for the FAA or Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to issue flight restrictions over Minnesota's nuclear power plants.
In a letter responding to the governor's calls for such temporary flight restrictions (TFRs), Boyer said, "General aviation aircraft do not pose a risk to nuclear power plant safety, and it is inappropriate for the federal government to institute airspace restrictions or allow the closing of vital general aviation airspace or airports in proximity to them."
Boyer noted that Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and top security advisors have review concerns about nuclear power plant security on a number of occasions and determined that flight restrictions are neither necessary or appropriate.
He went on to explain that independent nuclear engineers have conducted studies, including one commissioned by AOPA, which determined that even large airliners, let alone smaller general aviation aircraft, could not damage the reactor vessel. The average GA aircraft would hardly even damage the outside of the containment building.
"All nuclear plants have been designed to withstand an impact by a large aircraft. This design standard is maintained because many plants are located in the proximity of an airport, federal airways, and military aircraft training routes," Boyer wrote.
He also noted, "While general aviation does not pose a threat, the FAA has issued an advisory to pilots to avoid circling or loitering over power plants. AOPA supports this advisory and encourages pilots to fly responsibly.
"As stewards of the National Airspace System, the FAA is obligated to look past the emotional grandstanding of local politicians and preserve the integrity of the national aviation system," Boyer concluded. "If the FAA or Transportation Security Administration were to identify credible threats to nuclear power plants, rest assured that the appropriate federal agencies would take action to protect its citizens."
(For more information, see "General Aviation and Homeland Security.")