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AOPA president delivers on Expo promiseAOPA president delivers on Expo promise

AOPA president delivers on Expo promise
FAA says pilots should have access to facilities

Potomac Tracon can

Click for larger image

More than 130 pilots attended an "Operation Raincheck" seminar November 20 in the Potomac Tracon outside of Washington, D.C. "So what?" you may ask.

Operation Raincheck is a program designed to familiarize pilots with the ATC system, its functions, responsibilities, and benefits. And here's why such a program in the Potomac Terminal Radar Approach Control facility is a big deal.

Potomac is among the FAA's most tightly secured and security-conscious facilities. It watches over some of the most critical airspace in the United States, airspace covering the White House, the Capitol, the Pentagon, the CIA, and the National Security Agency, to name a few. The air traffic controllers are themselves watched by people from agencies with initials that aren't F-A-A.

Yet 135 ordinary general aviation pilots were invited in to the inner sanctum to learn more about air traffic control and the infamous Washington, D.C., Air Defense Identification Zone.

So if Potomac can do it, no other facility has an excuse not to.

Special kudos to the Potomac Tracon staff, by the way, most of whom volunteered to come in on their day off to conduct Operation Raincheck.

Click for larger image
Pilots at AOPA Expo asked TSA
chief Stone why they were being
denied access to FAA facilities.
AOPA found out they shouldn't be.

Pilots should be able to enter FAA facilities. There is currently no nationwide security reason to bar access to flight service stations, air traffic control facilities, and other FAA offices, AOPA and the FAA have determined.

In getting that determination, AOPA is delivering on an "IOU" that association President Phil Boyer took at AOPA Expo last month.

During the Expo general session with TSA chief Rear Adm. David Stone, one pilot, who is a scout aviation merit badge counselor, asked, "When can we restore the freedom of taking these young people into the towers and flight service stations like we could three years ago?"

Stone replied that he was unaware of the problem, but he would talk to FAA Administrator Marion Blakey.

That's when AOPA President Phil Boyer jumped in.

"He's pointing at Marion [Blakey], yesterday she was pointing at him... I'll take the IOU to figure out where this is emanating from. We'll work with both agencies and figure out how these youth programs and doing business with the FAA can continue, and at the same time secure these facilities," Boyer told the Expo audience. ( View a short video of the Q & A.)

Now here is the official answer from the FAA's security office.

Under the current "code yellow" (elevated) threat alert, flight service stations should still be open to walk-in briefings (unless there is a specific threat at a specific facility).

Pilots also should be allowed access to air traffic control facilities for operational purposes. That would include tours and Operation Raincheck programs, but as has always been the case, access is dependent upon the availability of FAA personnel to conduct the tour. Operation Raincheck is an FAA educational program designed to familiarize pilots with the air traffic control system.

There may be additional security for visitors depending upon the facility. For example, pilots may need to provide their names in advance before participating in a tour or program.

And access to FAA facilities will be further restricted or prohibited if the threat level is raised to code orange (high) or red (severe).

"'Security' has been a convenient excuse for slamming shut the door at some ATC facilities," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of Government and Technical Affairs, "but we now know that it's been just that — an excuse in most cases.

"Pilots should tell us if they're still denied appropriate access. We know the right people to talk to in headquarters, and we'll get the doors opened."

November 24, 2004

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