FAA makes Washington-area flight restrictions permanent


Dec. 22--The Federal Aviation Administration this week made permanent the special flight restrictions put in place around Washington after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, headquartered at Frederick Municipal Airport, has advised its members that they must obey the rule, but maintains that the government has never shown a justification for it, according to Chris Dancy, the organization's spokesman.

The restrictions consist of two concentric rings centered on Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. The outer ring is the 30 nautical mile-radius special flight rules area, inside of which pilots must be in two-way radio contact with air traffic control, and have filed a special flight plan, among other requirements. The inner ring, the 15 nautical-mile radius flight restricted zone, is open only to Defense Department, law enforcement and air ambulance flights and flights that have authorization from the FAA and the Transportation Security Administration.

These restrictions are separate from those surrounding Camp David, which has a prohibited airspace, the boundaries of which expand when the president is in residence at the retreat, said Paul Takemoto, an FAA spokesman.

AOPA and other commenters have questioned the need for the restrictions around Washington, arguing it hurts business at airports inside the SFRA, and the government has never proven the limits actually improve Washington's security.

The FAA, in its final rule, said a small plane loaded with radiological, biological or chemical agents could be a serious threat and that the federal government considers allowing aircraft to operate in the vicinity of Washington without knowing the pilot's intentions are "an unacceptable risk."

AOPA would like to change the rule, but has no concrete plans to seek changes at the moment, Dancy said.

"At this point, I don't think I can say we'll be actively trying to change (the rule,)" he said. "Should an opportunity arise, we will certainly try to make our case again."