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National to reopen to GA on tightly limited basisNational to reopen to GA on tightly limited basis

National to reopen to GA on tightly limited basis
Complex requirements restrict use of airport

Lawmakers respond to plan to reopen National to GA
Call move a "first step," consider terms "harsh"

Lawmakers say the plan to reopen Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to general aviation is long overdue. And while they believe it is a good first step, it does too little to provide access to small GA aircraft.

Bennie Thompson

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement that the plan does too little to accommodate typical GA aircraft and does not take into account repeated findings that these small airplanes are not a security threat.

"I am concerned that some of the proposed plan is unrealistic and only provides a piece-meal solution to air security," Thompson said Thursday. "It is not clear how it will affect the 165,000 smaller general aviation planes, including 3,000 Mississippi planes, that do not pose the same threat as charters and corporate jets and may need different regulations and programs to govern them."

That sentiment was echoed in the House aviation subcommittee, where lawmakers had harsh words for the harsh terms of the plan.

"The reopening of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to general aviation is three years overdue," said U.S. Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the subcommittee. "While I welcome the announcement of procedures for beginning limited access to general aviation, we must continue to expand the number of eligible aircraft and simplify some of the harsh terms imposed."

U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), ranking Democrat on the aviation subcommittee, agreed. While he called the reopening of National "good news," he was less enthusiastic about the provisions of the plan.

"I have concerns about the details, as several of the requirements seem overly burdensome, but it is progress," Costello said.

All three lawmakers pledged to work to provide greater GA access to National.

In the Wednesday news conference announcing the plan, TSA Chief Adm. David Stone indicated that his agency would work with AOPA over the coming year to permit privately owned aircraft to operate at National.

Click for larger image

General aviation will once again have access to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, but the complexity and expense of the restrictions is likely to limit GA use of the airport.

An AOPA representative attending a meeting with the Transportation Security Administration on Tuesday evening learned that the plan includes strict security requirements for pilots and crew, including fingerprinting and background checks. Flights carrying passengers also will be required to have an armed law enforcement officer on board. And all GA flights landing at the airport will be required to travel through one of a dozen gateway airports. GA slots will be limited to 24 arriving and an equal number of departing flights each day.

"For the typical AOPA member, this won't mean much," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "The security requirements are just too complex and expensive for the average GA pilot. More important for AOPA members is the recent reopening of the DC-3 airports to transient pilots - something AOPA worked long and hard to achieve."

The DC-3 - College Park Airport (CGS), Potomac Airfield (VKX), and Washington Executive/Hyde Field (W32) - provide access to the Washington area for many GA pilots, although strict security requirements are in place, including a background check and security training.

Many questions remain about how the plan to reopen National airport will apply across a range of differing circumstances, and AOPA is pursuing answers. Even so, an interim final rule on the plan is set to be published within the next week, and the new requirements will take effect 90 days after that.

Rules for GA operations at National

The restrictions being imposed on GA flights into National airport are too complex and expensive for most pilots even to consider. What follows is a partial list of key requirements:

  • Armed law enforcement officers will be required on all flights carrying passengers.
  • Pilots, crew members, and law enforcement officers will be required to undergo fingerprinting, criminal background checks, and TSA security training.
  • All flights must pass through or originate at one of the following "portal" airports: Philadelphia (PHL); Seattle (SEA); San Francisco (SFO); Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP); Chicago Midway (MDW); Boston Logan (BOS); White Plains (HPN); La Guardia (LGA); Teterboro (TEB); Lexington Blue Grass (LEX); West Palm Beach (PBI); or Houston Hobby (HOU).
  • TSA will inspect all crew members, passengers, and baggage and check identification.
  • An as-yet-unspecified security fee will be charged to offset security costs.
  • No more than 24 arrivals and 24 departures will be allowed each day; days will be restricted to 12 designated operating hours.
  • Operators must give 24 hours notice of intended flight, including passenger and pilot names.
  • GA operations could be suspended in the event of a regional security alert or increase in the national threat level to orange or red.

Numerous other details of the plan are still unclear, including the amount of any security fee, how to file advance notice, how to obtain the necessary training and background checks, limitations on operations for flights not carrying passengers, and whether or not GA aircraft can be based at National. AOPA is pursing clarification on these and other issues.

Update: May 26, 2005

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