Banned since 11 September 2001, general aviation returned to Wash­ing­ton DC’s Reagan National (DCA) on 18 October when a Hawker 1000 operated by New World Jet on a charter service for Jet Aviation landed at the airport. But the breakthrough was overshadowed by security concerns raised by the theft of a Cessna Citation VII business jet in Florida on 16 October, for a joyride, not terrorism.

The Hawker 1000 arrived at National’s long-idle Signature Flight Support fixed-base operation from Jet Aviation’s FBO at Teterboro, New Jersey, one of 12 “gateway” airports from which corporate and charter flights to National are permitted under the US Transportation Security Administration’s DCA access standard security programme. New World Jet is the first Part 135 operator approved by the TSA for access to National.

Initially, up to 48 flights a day will be allowed into National from the 12 gateway airports, compared with around 660 GA and charter flights a week before 9/11. While welcoming the partial return of general aviation to DCA as a first step, GA advocates are pressing for additional gateway airports and a gradual relaxation of the security requirements, which include background checks, screening and carrying an armed security officer on the aircraft.

Their case was not helped by the alleged theft of the Citation, owned by Pinnacle Air Jet Charter, which was taken from St Augustine, Flor­ida and flown to Biscoe Field, north of Atlanta, Georgia. The aircraft’s transponder was turned off and the pilot did not file a flight plan or talk to air traffic control during the late-night flight. The 22-year-old pilot, who holds a commercial pilot’s licence, has been charged with theft and reckless conduct. Five other people were on the flight.

The National Business Aviation Association points out that business aircraft “are not easy to access or to fly”, requiring “highly specialised knowledge”. The US Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association says thefts are rare, with about six aircraft stolen in the USA this year from a fleet of 211,000 privately owned aircraft.


Source: Flight International