General aviation shouldn't be made the scapegoat for government security failures. That was the message AOPA President Phil Boyer reiterated during a 30-minute interview on the nationally syndicated Ken Hamblin radio show Tuesday. Much of the interview focused on the security snafu when a government communication failure forced the evacuation of the U.S. Capitol building because a Kentucky police King Air, ferrying Governor Ernie Fletcher to President Reagan's funeral, had an en route transponder glitch.
"We're not advocating that there should be 'free-flight' around the nation's capital with its treasured monuments and buildings," said Boyer. "But we're also saying there should be some reason to all of this, and they're now putting the blame on small aircraft - about the size of your personal car - and that is absolutely ludicrous."[ Listen to the interview, courtesy of Ken Hamblin and KSCB Radio.]
Boyer explained that the government's response to the incident was to issue a notam requiring an aircraft to immediately exit the Washington-area air defense identification zone (ADIZ) if its transponder stops operating. Boyer said AOPA would work to make sure that notam did not become a permanent regulation.
He explained that the King Air flight crew had done everything properly and had provided all of the proper notifications. And he said that FAA air traffic control knew all along who was on the airplane and what its flight plan was.
The FAA was tracking the flight normally on its radar systems, "but then there is a group of federal agencies - the Transportation Security Administration, Secret Service, Coast Guard, Department of Defense - sitting around in a room that cost $20 million to build called the National Capital Region Coordination Center," Boyer said. "And in this room all these agencies have their own [radar] equipment. This is where the breakdown occurred. The FAA knew exactly what was going on.... This agency had a system that wasn't as good as the FAA's."
Boyer said that this incident would be the subject of a congressional hearing Thursday. Out of this hearing, "the American public should understand where all this taxpayer money is going and that it's doing very little good."
Boyer also addressed recent comments from West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller about general aviation aircraft being "killing machines." "We were shocked and alarmed, particularly considering Senator Rockefeller's support for general aviation in his state," said Boyer.
July 7, 2004