Could DCA Be Re-opened to GA?

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Yesterday's field hearing by the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Aviation may be the beginning of the end for the ongoing ban of non-scheduled operations from the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). The hearing, held in a hangar at the airport's mostly deserted Signature Flight Support facility, allowed the general and business aviation trade associations to once again tell Congress about the many problems arising from the federal government's dealings with the industry in the two-and-one-half years since Sept. 11, 2001. It was also an opportunity for David M. Stone, the TSA's acting administrator, to tell Congress that his agency "is devising a security plan that will allow general aviation and charter operations to resume at DCA." Stone told the panel that his agency planned to present such a plan to an interagency working group as early as within two weeks.

Uniformly, the industry witnesses appearing -- who included James K. Coyne, president, National Air Transportation Association (NATA); Phil Boyer, president, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA); Shelley A. Longmuir, president and chief executive officer, National Business Aviation Association (NBAA); Beth Haskins, president and chief executive officer, Signature Flight Support; and Edward M. Bolen, president and chief executive officer, General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) -- decried the economic impact ongoing restrictions are having. For example, AOPA's Boyer cited numerous examples of inactivity throughout the Washington, D.C., area while NATA's Coyne stressed industry's willingness to comply with reasonable security procedures in exchange for access to DCA if only someone in government would approve them. As GAMA's Bolen summed it up, "[T]he fact is that our nationís security organizations have not failed to find a workable solution that will bring general aviation back to [DCA] -- it is that they have failed to even try."

With the economic damage to the industry firmly in mind, the associations appearing at the hearing all expressed their support for reopening the airport to non-scheduled operations. No surprise there. Nor were there any surprises in how they proposed it be accomplished. For example, NATA reminded Congress of its DCA Protocol (DCAP) proposal, which would require all aircraft accessing DCA to be U.S.-registered, have two-pilot crews, and use crews who successfully pass a fingerprint-based criminal history record check (CHRC), among other things. NATA's four-phased DCAP would gradually ramp up non-scheduled access by first allowing charter operators already complying with TSA security rules to use the facility. The NBAA also brought a proposal, dubbed "Secure Access," to the witness table. Under the NBAA's Secure Access initiative, another eight requirements would be appended to the association's TSA Access Certificate (TSAAC) program currently in effect in the New York City area. Among the eight additional requirements were concepts such as sharing real-time classified threat information with the aircraft operator; developing and maintaining a ground security program; a CHRC for the entire flight department, not just the flight crew; and checking all passengers against a watch list used by other elements of the aviation community.

Regardless of how or whether DCA is ever reopened to non-scheduled operations -- Part 135 charters, high-end bizjets or FLIBs meeting airline passengers -- the hearing served as a reminder to Congress that general and business aviation operators have borne the brunt of government-imposed security restrictions since Sept. 11, 2001. Temporary flight restrictions (TFRs), the Washington Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), the prohibition of transient aircraft operations at the so-called "DC-3" airports and, of course, the closing of DCA to anything other than scheduled air carriers -- but a few of the examples raised in the hearing -- provide overwhelming evidence of the federal government's continuing unwillingness to be the least bit supportive of GA.