The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) this week took the highly unusual step of mailing a National Pilot Alert to its members, asking them to actively oppose the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposal to make the restrictive Washington, D.C., Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) permanent.
The "temporary" ADIZ has been a 3,000-square-mile permanent fixture of the airspace around the cities of Washington, D.C., and Baltimore since it was hastily imposed over a weekend during the run-up 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. Although the New York ADIZ was removed once the security threat level decreased, the Washington D.C.-area ADIZ has remained. Some security officials have indicated they'd like to see ADIZ restrictions around other major U.S. cities.
"The threat of a permanent ADIZ, not only here but in other areas of the country, is very real," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "If the FAA makes the Washington, D.C., ADIZ permanent, it will set a dangerous precedent, creating the possibility of overly burdensome flight restrictions around major U.S. cities."
AOPA believes the threat is so serious that it has issued only its third National Pilot Alert in more than a decade. The association is asking every one of its more than 406,000 members to lodge a protest with the FAA and send a copy to Congress.
To fly in the ADIZ, pilots need to file a flight plan with an FAA employee at a flight service station (FSS), obtain a code to enter in the transponder of the aircraft, get permission from air traffic control (ATC) to enter the airspace, and remain in contact with ATC while in the ADIZ, all of which stretches FAA resources too thinly.
"The Washington ADIZ tripled air traffic controller workload, costing the taxpayers an additional $11 million a year," said Boyer. "But the FAA didn't add substantially to its resources."
Pilots who currently fly in and around the ADIZ must deal with long waits to get through on the telephone to ATC, flight plans lost by ATC, and getting stranded outside of the ADIZ due to minor technical glitches. In addition, these pilots face severe enforcement penalties - including the risk of being shot down - for harmless technical or procedural errors made while trying to follow the highly complex procedures.
Boyer readily acknowledged the need to protect the nation's capital where the critical areas, including Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, and every significant federal agency headquarters are covered by the Flight Restricted Zone, or FRZ. This highly sensitive area 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 need for the FRZ is understandable and necessary - and it works," said Boyer. "The ADIZ, on the other hand, is ill conceived, poorly designed, completely unworkable, and totally unnecessary. It unreasonably restricts freedom of travel and has severely crippled the economic viability of hundreds of businesses."
The danger to the nation's capital posed by GA aircraft is minimal. A 2,000-pound, four-seat Cessna aircraft is used by pilots for personal and business travel much the same way that Americans use their family car. A small GA aircraft is vastly different than a 500,000-pound Boeing 747 airliner. GA aircraft do not have the mass or load-carrying capability to make good weapons, which is why a GA aircraft has never been used in an act of terrorism anywhere in the world.
The restrictions in the 3,000-square-nautical-mile Washington, D.C., 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. It's an unmanageable, one-size-fits-all solution that creates significantly more problems than it solves," said Boyer.
The more than 406,000 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.
October 6, 2005