Senator James Inhofe
Senator Conrad Burns
"Once you get people all talking in the same room with the door closed, it is possible good things can happen," said AOPA President Phil Boyer.
The meeting on the Washington, D.C., Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) took place in an ornate Senate hearing room this week and was spearheaded by AOPA member and pilot Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.).
And while AOPA has held more than 100 individual meetings with the many people, agencies, and departments that claim ownership to the stringent ADIZ rules, having them all together is rare. The closed-door dialogue was open and frank and without the normal posturing for the public and the press.
"I remain confused and frustrated on why there has been so much effort focused on restricting GA access to the Washington, D.C., airspace with little to no justification for it," stated Sen. Inhofe. He called the meeting after a recent plea from Boyer to assist in the Washington, D.C., ADIZ stalemate.
Inhofe specifically chided the FAA for failing to submit congressionally mandated reports justifying the ADIZ and recommending operational improvements.
"Normally, I am in the role of defending national security efforts taken by the administration, but the series of decisions surrounding the ADIZ have me baffled, and I would like you to explain to me why your actions on the ADIZ are justified," Sen. Inhofe said to the representatives from the Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, and the FAA. EAA's Washington representative was also at the meeting.
Seated beside Sen. Inhofe, Boyer nodded in agreement. And just getting warmed up on the other side was Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), chairman of the Senate aviation subcommittee.
The security officials emphasized their concern about protecting key people and buildings from aerial attack, but they rely on the military to do that.
The military said it needs to identify the aircraft and its intentions, and it needs time and distance to do that.
In fact, the NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) commander said his radar operators and fighter pilots would prefer a 150-nautical-mile-radius ADIZ to give them enough time and distance to identify and react to hostile aircraft. The commander also referred to a military procedure called "Safe Passage," which allows secure access to sensitive airspace without radio contact or flight plans.
"So if you knew the plane, the pilot, and the destination, that would satisfy you?" Boyer asked. The general agreed that those were the basics of the military's Safe Passage procedures.
AOPA renewed its idea of corridors using specific transponder codes for specific airports within the ADIZ. Boyer noted this concept had been put forth in 2003 and questioned why it seemed new today. Under this idea, pilots would be "known" (every pilot has already been vetted by the FAA and the TSA), and the squawk code would tell the military that it was a small GA airplane headed for a GA airport inside the ADIZ. Plane, pilot, destination - all known to the security people without needing restrictive ADIZ communications and procedures.
"That's the kind of creative and effective solution we should be trying to find," said Sen. Burns.
That prompted the FAA representative to say that there were many solutions like that within the more the 20,000 pilot comments on the ADIZ.
"So why does it take a proposal to make the ADIZ permanent to get these ideas flowing - or at least to get the attention of the people making the rules?" asked Boyer.
"It was clear that the defense and security agencies are pretty entrenched on what they want for the ADIZ," said Boyer, "but they were also willing to listen, at least when called to Capitol Hill by prominent U.S. senators.
"NORAD's commander is a GA pilot and AOPA member when he takes off his general's uniform, so he does understand our concerns. We did get everybody talking. But it's only a start," said Boyer.
As the 90-minute session drew to a close, Boyer challenged the regulators, "Why can't we use the same creativity that allowed air transport category aircraft - the same type and size that caused the devastation of 9/11 - to operate just seconds from the nation's capital at Reagan National airport into trying to fix the problems of the D.C. ADIZ?"
AOPA wants members to know this single meeting didn't result in a solution, but it did crack open some doors ever so slightly for more creative thinking in trying to solve the economic, operational, and security issues with the Washington, D.C., airspace.
"It was good to have people on both sides talking in the room and even better to have some get a talking to from U.S. senators," said Boyer.
September 14, 2006