Members of the House aviation subcommittee led by Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) on Thursday took the FAA and Transportation Security Administration to task for communications failures that caused the evacuation of the U.S. Capitol as thousands gathered for President Ronald Reagan's funeral.
"As the subcommittee members pointed out time and again, this was a communications failure between government agencies, not a security failure," said AOPA President Phil Boyer.
Some subcommittee members went so far as to question the effectiveness and need for the air defense identification zone (ADIZ) surrounding Washington, D.C., which has created operational nightmares for pilots and air traffic controllers alike.
The security agencies are "doing things that provide the illusion of security by harassing innocent people," Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) remarked during the hearing.
During questioning by Rep. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), both FAA and TSA officials confirmed that none of the ADIZ airspace violations by general aviation pilots were connected to terrorist activity.
The hearing came in response to the panic caused when a King Air carrying Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher to Ronald Reagan's funeral suffered a transponder failure. Although the flight crew complied with its clearance and was talking to air traffic controllers, the FAA and security officials failed to talk to each other. The U.S. Capitol was evacuated, and according to an article in Thursday's Washington Post, military officials were moments away from shooting the governor's aircraft out of the sky.
"The pilots and the Air Traffic Organization followed all required in-flight procedures. But the communications breakdown within the federal government potentially imperiled the governor of Kentucky," Boyer said.
At the hearing, most of the members stressed that the problem was the lack of communication between government agencies. Mica called the breakdown "alarming and unacceptable."
Even so, FAA representative Linda Schuessler said the agency plans to release a notice of proposed rulemaking within the next few weeks to make the Baltimore-Washington ADIZ permanent.
"AOPA will vigorously oppose any proposal to make the ADIZ permanent," said Boyer.
July 8, 2004