- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Federal officials have proposed making permanent the flying restrictions imposed two years ago for a 2,000-square-mile area around Washington.

The Federal Aviation Administration wants to keep the air-defense identification zone in place to secure the nation’s capital from attack.

The restricted zone covers an area larger than Rhode Island.

Defense Department and Department of Homeland Security officials asked the FAA to make the restricted zone permanent, FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said.

The proposed rule will be published today in the Federal Register and can become permanent after a 60-day comment period.

The FAA imposed the air-defense identification zone in February 2003 and intended it to be temporary. A rash of airspace violations persuaded security officials to keep the restricted zone in place.

The decision angered private pilots who believe the rule change will increase the likelihood that planes will cross into the restricted area and initiate evacuations.

“The [air-defense identification zone] is operationally unworkable and imposes significant burdens on pilots and air-traffic controllers alike,” said Phil Boyer, president of the 406,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

FAA rules don’t ban flight within the air-defense identification zone. But pilots planning to fly into the zone must notify the FAA and tell them where they plan to fly and when. Prior to takeoff, pilots must get a code and enter it into a transponder that identifies their aircraft to air-traffic controllers.

Pilots also must keep a radio channel open at all times so air-traffic controllers can stay in contact with them.

But violations by pilots who fail to follow those rules are common.

More than 1,700 pilots have flown unauthorized into the restricted zone since 2003.

Most are minor incidents, but some have prompted evacuations of the White House and Capitol for what turned out to be confused pilots.

On May 11, Hayden “Jim” Sheaffer flew into the air-defense identification zone and into the flight-restricted zone, a smaller no-fly zone measuring 16 square miles around the Washington Monument. No private planes are allowed within the smaller flight-restricted zone. Another incident occurred June 29, and a plane also crossed into restricted airspace July 2.

The FAA has fined about 600 pilots, said Michael Cirillo, the FAA’s vice president of the Air Traffic Organization, in testimony in June before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Pilots aren’t the only people fuming over the plan to make the restriction permanent.

Airport managers within the restricted zone said the rule makes it harder for pilots to use tier facilities — robbing the airports, aviation services companies and flight schools at the airports of potential revenue.

The restricted zone includes 19 airports, including the Washington area’s three major commercial airports.

“There is a need for security. But we need to figure out a better way that gives pilots the freedom to fly and ensures security,” said Lee Schiek, manager of the College Park Airport and president of the Maryland Airport Managers Association.

The Pentagon has tried to help by installing a visual warning system in May to notify pilots when they wander unauthorized into the restricted zones.

Last month, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, and Rep. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, introduced a bill to levy fines of up to $100,000 on pilots who fly unauthorized into the smaller flight-restricted zone and up to $5,000 for pilots who fly into the air-defense identification zone.

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