Instances of light aircraft violating restricted airspace have left nerves jangling

The US general aviation (GA) community is struggling to convince politicians and the public that it is safe and secure after recent instances of light aircraft violating restricted airspace.

It is not only private pilots that are causing concern, however. Individual states continue to push for legislation on background checks for anyone seeking flight training and rules requiring security programmes for all aircraft weighing more than 5,700kg (12,540lb) have been released by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Air-taxi and private charter operations with aircraft weighing more than 43,000kg already have to meet the same screening requirements as airlines.

GA bodies have welcomed the US Federal Aviation Administration's move to publish graphical depictions on the internet of some of the temporary flight restrictions (TFR) imposed due to security concerns. Industry associations have blamed airspace incursions, including three in one weekend over the presidential retreat at Camp David, on a failure of pilots and briefers to understand the TFRs as communicated by the current notice to airmen (NOTAM) system.

"I'm not defending the pilots who have violated TFRs," says Aircraft Owners' and Pilots' Association (AOPA) president Phil Boyer, "but the communication system is broken". AOPA has been pressing for internet access to graphical TFRs and is appealing to pilots to check NOTAMs carefully. "Accidental or not, these incursions hurt general aviation," Boyer adds.

Incursions add weight to political efforts to restrict general aviation. The New Jersey legislature has passed a bill requiring background checks on pilots seeking flight training, primary or advanced. The bill is awaiting final approval by the state's governor. Industry lobbying has delayed the passage of similar legislation in New York, while Maryland has dropped its background check bill.

Access to details of the security requirements for aircraft over 5,700kg are being restricted to affected operators, but US senator Herb Kohl is trying to force the TSA to require airline-like screening, citing the destructive power of larger business jets such as the Gulfstream V.

Illustrating the continued sensitivity to the potential threat, all business aircraft operators at Milwaukee's Mitchell Airport were grounded on 8-9 July during a major sporting event in the city. The TSA says there will be no action on allowing GA back into Washington Reagan National Airport before month-end at the earliest.

Source: Flight International