AOPA is urging all of its more than 406,000 members to take just 15 minutes to help protect your freedom to fly - to prevent a future air defense identification zone (ADIZ) from restricting airspace in your area.
"AOPA needs the voice of every member to tell the FAA and Congress not to make the Washington, D.C., ADIZ permanent," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "The ADIZ is ill conceived, poorly executed, and unnecessary. It's a dangerous precedent because it paves the way to make these confusing and onerous flight restrictions a real possibility within the footprint of every Class B airspace around the country." Pilots attending the Phoenix-area Pilot Town Meeting last week - more than 2,000 miles from D.C. - expressed their concern to Boyer about the ADIZ becoming permanent.
AOPA is taking this highly unusual step - only the third time in more than 10 years - in order to take full advantage of one of the association's key assets. "We know that there is great strength in numbers. It's what has made us so successful in so many other initiatives," said Boyer. "I want to thank the thousands of members who have already submitted their comments. And I strongly urge all the other AOPA members to take the time to do so as well. This is an important investment in protecting your personal right to fly," said Boyer. "This is not a situation where any of us can sit back and say, 'I'll leave this to someone else to do.'"
AOPA has made filing your comments easy with a step-by-step guide to help you craft your message and submit it to the FAA and copy your members of Congress.
AOPA believes the threat is so serious that it has issued only its third national pilot alert in more than a decade. The "temporary" ADIZ has been a permanent fixture of the Washington-Baltimore Class B airspace since it was hastily imposed over a weekend during the runup to war in Iraq two and a half years ago. A similar ADIZ has been imposed several times around New York City, but it has lasted only a short time in each case.
And some security officials have indicated they'd like to see ADIZ restrictions around other major cities.
"Understand that this would be much more restrictive than the Class B, returning to the way things were in the months following 9/11," said Boyer. "You won't be able to fly VFR 'under the shelf' anymore to outlying airports."
The inner ring around the hub airport could become a "Flight Restricted Zone" (FRZ), much like the 15-nm-radius FRZ around Washington, D.C. It could be off-limits to most flights.
The ADIZ itself would extend to the surface from the outer ring of the Class B and could be even larger, much like the "enhanced Class B" that was put into effect shortly after 9/11. To fly in the ADIZ, pilots would first have to file a flight plan with FSS (no DUAT filing is permitted), obtain a discrete transponder code, and remain in contact with air traffic control (ATC).
"The Washington ADIZ tripled controller workload, costing the taxpayers an additional $11 million a year," said Boyer. "But the FAA didn't add substantially to its resources. If you think getting a Class B clearance is difficult today, just ask Washington-area pilots what it's like to try to get through for an ADIZ clearance.
"Also ask them about the severe enforcement penalties - including the risk of being shot down - for simple technical errors made while trying to follow complex procedures."
Recently, AOPA media relations staff flew a reporter from the influential Washington newspaper The Hill, which reaches Congress and federal officials, into the ADIZ to demonstrate some of the problems. They circled for some 15 minutes, trying to pick up their clearance into the ADIZ.
But it can be much worse. Some AOPA members have reported trying for up to an hour to get through on the telephone to ATC to pick up their clearance and transponder code so that they can depart from an airport inside the ADIZ. Other horror stories include lost flight plans, orders to exit the ADIZ rather than return to the departure airport because of a transponder failure, and flight instructors refusing to teach inside the ADIZ because simple mistakes such as cycling a transponder too early can have severe career consequences.
Boyer acknowledged the need to protect the nation's capital. But the critical areas, including Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, and every significant federal agency headquarters are ringed by the FRZ, which itself is well protected with multiple radar systems, laser warning systems, anti-aircraft missile batteries, man-portable anti-aircraft defense systems, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Air Force interceptor aircraft.
The restrictions in the 3,000-square-nautical-mile Washington ADIZ surrounding the FRZ "are excessive and do little to increase security. There are simple and rational procedures that can provide adequate security without setting a dangerous precedent that threatens GA pilots everywhere. One size doesn't fit all."
The AOPA National Pilot Alert asks members to file protests on the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that would make the ADIZ permanent. See " What to say about the ADIZ."
Updated: October 9, 2005, 2:51 p.m. EDT