- The Washington Times - Friday, October 31, 2003

Some of the private airplanes banned from skies around Washington after the September 11 attacks are likely to return beginning today as the government relaxes flight restrictions.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is reducing general aviation restrictions during a 60-day test at 14 small airports on the fringe of the “Air Defense Identification Zone” (ADIZ).

Some of the airports were nearly run out of business by restrictions that forced pilots to file flight plans and get advance clearance from FAA air-traffic controllers to land or takeoff.

Now all the pilots need to do is transmit coded messages to air-traffic control towers that identify them as they leave the restricted zone that extends in a semi-circle 30 miles around each of the Washington area’s three major airports.

They must fly “the most direct route” to or from the airports they are using, said Fraser Jones, FAA spokesman. “Any deviation by the pilots from these procedures would trigger a response.”

At the Kentmorr Airpark and Bay Bridge Airport, both in Stevensville, Md., pilots can use the coded transmissions for both entry and egress of the ADIZ. At the other 12 fringe airports, pilots still must file flight plans and get advance permission to enter the restricted zone.

“We lost nearly 60 percent of our business because of the 9/11 shutdown,” said John Kirby, manager of the Bay Bridge Airport. “This will get us back onto the right economic footing.”

Other aviation industry representatives downplayed the importance of the rule change.

“This is something that is moving in the right direction but I would not want to portray it as a significant change,” said Warren Morningstar, spokesman for the Frederick, Md.-based Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. “The ADIZ has not gone away.”

The organization has questioned whether the expanded flight restrictions imposed after the September 11 attacks are necessary.

“When you look at the horrendous operational effect this has had on general aviation and airports in the region, it’s hard for us to see the cost-benefit,” Mr. Morningstar said.

Private airplane pilots who enter the restricted zone without authorization risk having their licenses taken away. They could get shot down if they approach within 15 miles of the White House or Capitol.

Planes that fly into the zone without an authorization code are flagged as violators by air-traffic controllers, who call the violation “punching the bubble.” More than 600 violations have been recorded since the restricted zone was established in February.

Black Hawk helicopters are then dispatched to determine whether the violation is negligent or intentional.

Before September 11, private pilots could fly up the Potomac River and get as close as two miles of key downtown landmarks.

The restrictions compelled some airplane owners to relocate their aircraft to airports outside the restricted zone, such as Frederick Municipal Airport, which lies 8 miles outside the zone.

Business increased for airports outside the zone but plunged for airports subjected to the restrictions.

Frederick Municipal Airport’s business rose more than 18 percent.

However, flights at the Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg fell 50 percent since September 11.

College Park Airport, which also lies within the restricted zone, is operating about 10 percent of the flights it had before September 11.

Neither airport will benefit from the relaxed rules that take effect today because they lie squarely within the ADIZ.

“We hope it’s going to be a movement in the right direction,” said Wendy Carter, manager of Montgomery County Airpark.

“We’d like to see a corridor open up.”

In other words, she would like the FAA to approve straight-line entry and egress for general aviation airports within the ADIZ without flight plans and advance clearance.

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