Yet another bill (H.R.3465) to severely penalize pilots for violating restricted airspace has hit Congress. This one, sponsored by House political party leaders Maryland Democrat Steny Hoyer and Missouri Republican Roy Blunt, would impose a fine of $10,000 to $100,000 for violating the Washington, D.C., flight-restricted zone (FRZ) around the Capitol and White House and a certificate suspension of two to five years. Violating the air defense identification zone (ADIZ) outside the FRZ would draw a $5,000 penalty. (The current limit if a civil penalty is assessed is $1,100.)
AOPA has strongly opposed excessive penalties, arguing that pilot education is the key to cutting down the number of incursions. Experience suggests that stricter penalties themselves don't increase pilot awareness.
"We're concerned about increasing the penalty versus solving the problem," Boyer told the Washington Post yesterday. "Don't we as pilots...or anyone in the public know that right after September 11, 2001, the president ordered that any aircraft could be shot down? Doesn't the ultimate penalty already exist?"
In fact, the Hoyer-Blunt bill does recognize AOPA's emphasis on education. The bill would require that pilots be trained in "the most efficient manner possible, including using internet based training, printed materials, flight review, or other flight training" on procedures for operating in the ADIZ, flight planning, and appropriate responses to airborne intercepts.
Of course, AOPA has already made those training materials available (see " AOPA resources to keep you out of restricted airspace").
And the bill recognizes what has been a long-running problem for pilots - the weakness of the notam system. The bill would direct the FAA to ensure that notams "regarding the national capital region airspace are issued in a timely manner and are easily accessible to all private pilots operating in the surrounding airspace."
AOPA will continue to lobby for education instead of unreasonable penalties even as Congress continues to react to recent evacuations of the Capitol caused by aircraft straying into the FRZ, the more than 3,400 incursions into the ADIZ, and 166 violations of the FRZ since January 2003.
"The message we're sending of course is that pilots of small planes ... need to be very, very careful when they fly in the Washington, D.C., area," Hoyer told the Washington Post. "This area will be increasingly dangerous to pilots.... The situation is a very, very dangerous one for those pilots and frankly for anyone on the ground if a plane is shot down." In addition to armed F-16 interceptors, the national capital region is ringed with Patriot missile batteries.
The House may consider the bill after the August recess.
July 27, 2005