- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 6, 2002

Military patrols and tighter security didn't prevent pilots from entering America's protected airspace at least 567 times since September 11, highlighting the continued challenges of thwarting a terrorist air strike.
In each case, a pilot wrongly flew into one of the country's six prohibited flight zones or into one of many zones where air traffic is limited because of sensitive military or nuclear operations or special events.
The post-September 11 incidents include four commercial jetliners and one medical helicopter flying into the forbidden airspace protecting the White House, Capitol and vice presidential mansion, officials said. The most recent incursion occurred this week.
"Practically speaking, by the time a violation is discovered, it is too late to do anything to prevent a crash into the White House," former Federal Aviation Administration security chief Billie H. Vincent said.
FAA Deputy Administrator Monte R. Belger said Thursday that the agency recognizes there's little time to react once planes penetrate the safety zone. So the government has imposed numerous other precautions to ensure that planes with ill intent don't get close.
"The restricted area is kind of the last line of defense," Mr. Belger said. "The additional on-the-ground security procedures and in-flight protocols put in place give us a much higher level of confidence."
Borders have been tightened; pilots, flight crews and passengers are screened; and planes approaching Washington or prohibited zones elsewhere must complete authentication procedures, including providing passwords.
FAA enforcement records obtained by the Associated Press show that most pilots who have violated protected airspace during the past decade usually walk away with nothing more than a warning letter.
Of the 111 pilots on 94 flights that flew into Washington's no-fly zone since 1992, just one was fined, for $1,000, and nine had their licenses suspended for seven to 120 days, the records show. At least 90 were settled with administrative action, nearly all of them warning letters, the analysis showed.
Planes that violate Washington's prohibited zone are quickly warned by air traffic controllers to correct course, and the Secret Service is alerted. Nearly all pilots comply immediately, officials said.
Military planes that patrol the capital skies are permitted to force the trespassers to land or, as a last resort, shoot them down if pilots don't respond.
None of the five planes that flew into the capital's protected space since September 11 have required such action, officials said.
One pilot died when he crashed his small plane into the White House in September 1994; no one else was harmed. In 1999, a pilot drifted so close to the White House that agents fired a warning flare. That pilot ended up with a warning letter, FAA records show.
Prohibited zones outside Washington are President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas; the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine; the presidential retreat at Camp David in Thurmont, Md.; the Pantex nuclear assembly plant in Amarillo, Texas; and the area around George Washington's home at Mount Vernon.
Elsewhere, there are numerous permanent and temporary restricted zones across the country. They cover military and nuclear sites, special events such as the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah and the Super Bowl in New Orleans, or places such as New York and Boston, where threats have prompted demarcation of temporary zones.

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