Stop blaming general aviation pilots for government security communication lapses. That was the angry message AOPA President Phil Boyer fired off to the FAA Monday following the Washington, D.C., Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) notam issued late Friday.
"This notam is a classic example of how GA is made the scapegoat for failures within a system that was set up for failure," Boyer wrote FAA Deputy Administrator Robert Sturgell, the agency's primary security contact. "It is an affront to the 400,000 members of AOPA. And the notam doesn't address the obvious disconnect within the government agencies working ADIZ security and FAA air traffic control."
The notam requires general aviation aircraft to immediately exit the ADIZ via the most direct route should their transponder become inoperative.
It was the FAA's response to the panic created June 9 when a communication failure between the FAA and air defense officials tracking a plane carrying Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher to Ronald Reagan's funeral caused the evacuation of the U.S. Capitol.
And it was a classic communication screw up. The Kentucky State Police King Air had an intermittent transponder. The flight crew had properly notified ATC and had received proper clearance for their flight to Reagan National Airport. Air traffic controllers knew about the transponder problem but failed to notify the National Capital Region Coordination Center - a $20 million command facility built specifically after 9/11 to ensure aerial security in the airspace around the nation's capital.
The King Air flight crew did everything right. They notified the FAA's Washington Center that their transponder had stopped working. FAA controllers then manually entered the flight data in the computer display tagging the target and cleared the aircraft to continue toward DCA.
But NCRCC security officials don't see the tagged tracon radar returns, despite their new multimillion-dollar facility. They saw an "unidentified" aircraft without a transponder heading near the Capitol building and scrambled interception aircraft and ordered the panic evacuation of the Capitol.
"We spend $20 million on a command center, yet we can't get the FAA and security agencies to share the same radar data," said Boyer. "We spend another $5 million to $6 million a year on additional staffing and equipment to try to make the ADIZ work, and people won't share information. And somehow this is all general aviation's fault. What's wrong with this picture?"
As one AOPA member put it, "Not very well thought out, I believe. 'They' need to fix the communications between ATC and the 'security forces' rather than applying yet another permanent bandage to burden pilots in the ADIZ."
June 22, 2004