After being removed from public view, the transcripts of the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) public meetings that were held in the Washington, D.C., area on January 12, have been reposted to the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Web site.
"These were public meetings, attended by hundreds of pilots and the news media," said Phil Boyer, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). "Pulling the transcripts weeks after the meetings certainly would not have secured any secret information, had there been any."
After being posted online in the weeks following the public meetings, the transcripts were removed because of concern from the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) that some public comments from the second round of meetings on January 18 might have compromised security.
Of particular note for NORAD was a Navy F-18 aviator who, speaking as private citizen and light aircraft pilot, pointed out aircraft travel times within the ADIZ. Administrative procedures do not ensure security, he said.
That prompted NORAD to ask for the all of the transcripts to undergo a security review. At the time, NORAD told AOPA that it "may or may not redact [the navy pilot's comments] in part or in whole." Upon review, NORAD found nothing in the transcripts that warranted deletion.
"Aircraft travel times within the ADIZ are simple for any private pilot to compute," said Boyer. "There is nothing sensitive about that information."
Immediately after the transcripts were pulled from the public record, AOPA contacted the FAA, suggesting that removing transcripts of meetings attended by hundreds of pilots and the news media was somewhat ridiculous and requesting the transcripts be restored to the public record. The FAA told AOPA that its hands were tied, that it could not put them back without authorization from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), an agency of the Department of Homeland Security. Separately, the TSA told AOPA that it was not responsible for having the transcripts pulled.
AOPA then filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to release the transcripts, but on April 5 the FAA sent a letter denying the request. "Until we receive notification from TSA to release the information to the public, we must withhold the transcripts to protect the disclosure of national security information concerning the national defense," wrote the FAA.
The TSA in the meantime conducted a security review of the transcripts and concluded that they contained no security-sensitive information. It then sent a formal letter, dated April 3 but apparently not received by the FAA before that agency denied AOPA's FOIA request, releasing the transcripts. The transcripts from the January 12 meetings were put back in the public record - and the January 18 meetings transcripts were posted for the first time - on April 12.
The more-than-408,000 members of AOPA make up the world's largest civil aviation association. AOPA is committed to striking a common-sense balance that fulfills national security needs while protecting aircraft owners and pilots from overly burdensome regulations.
Editors: AOPA provides two important resources for covering general aviation news - an online newsroom ( www.aopa.org/newsroom/) and a television studio and uplink ( www.aopa.org/satellite/). Contact us for more information.
April 13, 2006