A public service announcement that began running on television several months after the September 11 terrorist attacks shows an empty street as the narrator says, "On September 11, terrorists tried to change America forever." The scene changes to the same street with flags flying from every house as the narrator says, "Well, they succeeded," the clear implication being that the nation is stronger for having survived the ordeal.
Much the same can be said for general aviation two years after the terrorists turned airliners into weapons and focused national attention on aviation security.
"Yes, we're still under attack by those who don't understand GA," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "But if you look at a map of flight-restricted areas across the country, you'll see that for the vast majority of pilots, we've maintained our freedom to fly.
"And we've done so by taking the bull by the horns. While the government was tied up trying to beef up security at air carrier airports, general aviation took its own steps to enhance security at the nation's 5,000 other public-use airports."
AOPA developed and unveiled Airport Watch in conjunction with the Transportation Security Administration. The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) developed security guidelines for business aircraft operators. The National Air Transportation Association did the same for charter operators and flight schools.
"Perhaps the biggest threat terrorism poses to general aviation today is the excuse it gives anti-airport activists across the country to invoke national security in fighting against airports," said Boyer. "The most extreme example is Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's claim that he destroyed the runway at Meigs Field out of national security concerns."
AOPA continues to fight for relief from flight restrictions that appear to have outlived their usefulness. The Baltimore-Washington area remains firmly clamped in the grip of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) imposed in the run-up to war with Iraq. And pilots in the Puget Sound area of Washington state have to run a gauntlet of temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) every time they go flying. Other longstanding TFRs remain scattered across the country.
Fortunately, there's a bill pending in Congress, which AOPA supports, that would require the secretary of Transportation to continually justify to Congress the need to maintain the ADIZ. And AOPA continues to press the FAA to review the other "permanent" TFRs.
"So the question becomes, 'Where will we be on September 11, 2004?'" concluded Boyer. "If general aviation pilots remain vigilant, both for suspicious activity at their airports and for threats to their freedom to fly, we may be quite a bit closer to the way things were before the attacks."