US security services blamed for delay in overturning three-year, post 9/11 ban
The US House of Representatives has introduced legislation that could finally re-open Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) to general aviation after more than three years. The move has been widely welcomed by the GA community, which, apart from in exceptional circumstances, has been banned from the downtown airport since the 11 September terrorist attacks.
The legislation would require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Transportation to readmit GA within six months of the bills becoming law.
"The security services have been dragging their heels on this issue and Congress has finally lost patience," says Ed Bolen, president of the US National Business Aviation Association (NBAA). Last year the DHS along with the Transportation Security Administration and Secret Service were asked to provide a report to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations by 1 March on the status of restoring access to DCA for security-qualified charter and GA operators.
"It has been a long and frustrating process," Bolen says, "but the latest action by Congress is one step closer to allowing GA back in DCA." He adds: "We cannot predict when it will happen as the regulatory process is so arbitrary." Operators seeking to access DCA are likely to be subjected to certain conditions, Bolen says, including background checks for pilots and passengers, and diverting to another airport for screening before flying on to DCA.
Separately, the NBAA is urging the Federal Aviation Administration to re-evaluate the methods its uses for collecting data and tracking the safety record of business aviation. The plea was made during a meeting last month between the FAA and industry representatives to discuss and promote a culture of safety within business aviation. The meeting followed, but was not driven, by six fatal crashes of turbine business aircraft since October.
Bolen says the FAA conducts a survey of operators to extrapolate total flight hours, but the form, he argues, is often sent to the lessor, and not the operator of the aircraft. "The FAA is not sending the survey to right people, nor is it asking for the right information," he says, "therefore the data they receive provides an unclear and inaccurate depiction of the true safety record for business aircraft."
KATE SARSFIELD / LONDON
Source: Flight International