The U.S. Senate passed the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill late Thursday night minus an amendment that would have imposed severe fines, extended loss of flying privileges, and aircraft confiscation for violating the flight restricted zone (FRZ) inside the Washington, D.C., Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).
"We worked very hard with Sen. Pete Domenici's (R-N.M.) staff to convince him not to introduce the amendment at this time," said Jon Hixson, AOPA vice president of legislative affairs. "But it's also fair to say that the senator still has concerns about aircraft violating the airspace around the Capitol, and frankly, he's not the only one."
In fact, Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-N.Y.) amendment, calling for a study of GA airport security and the threats posed by GA aircraft, passed unanimously.
"In this building, we have experienced evacuations which, thankfully, were caused by either false alarms or as a result of errors by pilots," Sen. Clinton said during debate over the bill and amendments. "It is important to evaluate the threats that could be posed."
This "evaluation," according to Sen. Clinton, does not mandate any new costs for general aviation.
"While we would welcome an unbiased review of general aviation security - precisely because we know it would show that GA is not a significant threat to the safety and security of the majority of U.S. citizens - we have some concerns about other issues raised by this amendment," said AOPA President Phil Boyer.
"The amendment calls for 'feasibility studies' for everything from 'measures to disable aircraft' to 'low-cost, high-performance technology' to track GA aircraft. If these studies lead to regulations, there will be costs."
AOPA's legislative affairs staff spent considerable time talking to Sen. Clinton and her staff about this measure. And while the senator was unwilling to make some changes AOPA asked for, it's clear that she now has a growing appreciation for the value of general aviation.
"I believe in general aviation. I take advantage of it practically every week," said Sen. Clinton on the floor of the U.S. Senate. "It is a significant and important contributor to our national economy."
But she noted that given the heightened vulnerabilities and the recent evacuations of the Capitol, "we need to roll up our sleeves and take another hard look at this. I hope we can do it hand-in-hand with the general aviation fixed-base operators, pilots, owners, airport managers, and others who have been working hard to increase security measures at so many of these small airports.
"Of course, it is impossible to avoid every threat that is posed to the public or that we can imagine, but we should be vigilant to make sure we have a partnership so that local communities, private individuals, and private businesses can all take necessary steps to be vigilant and protective," said Sen. Clinton.
"Sen. Clinton has described perfectly the AOPA Airport Watch program," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "We also know that any fair analysis of imposing airline-type security or other expensive mandates on general aviation will fail the cost-benefit test."
For more information, see AOPA President Phil Boyer's latest editorial in the upcoming AOPA Pilot magazine.
Also, see AOPA's Airport Watch.
July 18, 2005