- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 19, 2005

In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Americans were denied many freedoms we take for granted. New government restrictions suddenly limited our ability to visit the Statue of Liberty, tour the White House, or even fly where and when we want.

Today, our freedom of mobility has largely been restored, albeit with some new accommodations. Lady Liberty and the White House are more secure but are accessible to sightseers. Federal security requirements appropriate to the passenger airlines have been put into effect.

However, in its work to restore mobility in a post-September 11 world, the government has overlooked one sector: the general aviation community. More than 1 million of us whose work depends on general aviation still must contend with unnecessary constraints on access to airspace and airports.

Since September 11, more than 3,000 Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) have been ordered over the nation’s airspace each year, prohibiting general aviation flight operations, while granting unfettered access to scheduled airlines. And the worst TFR of all has been the continued closure of Washington’s Reagan National Airport to general aviation, while permanently open to the scheduled airlines.

The costs of these restrictions have been high. A study last year for the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) found that since September 11, general aviation restrictions have cost the nation’s economy more than $1 billion in lost jobs, productivity and economic activity, at just over $43 million per month. Economic costs for closing Reagan National Airport to general aviation were tagged at $177 million to the Washington, D.C.-area economy nearly a year ago. This figure included lost jobs, wages, business volume to local aviation firms and their suppliers, and of course, lost tax revenue to the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Like other industries, the general aviation community — private business owners who fly, corporate fleet operators, owners of aircraft charter firms, and operators of general aviation terminals — took the initiative to work with federal experts to strengthen post-September safety and security.

For instance, the Transportation Security Administration has worked with NBAA to develop and test a pilot program with new security procedures at three regional airports in the New York area. This voluntary program, Transportation Security Administration Access Certificate (TSAAC), has set up industry-leading security standards for personnel, facilities, aircraft and in-flight operations. More than a year after its creation, the initiative has 100 percent compliance among the 24 companies in the program.

Yet, despite the years of hard work and cooperation with federal authorities to develop and test TSAAC, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has yet to expand the program, or offer an incentive to participate. Furthermore, DHS has failed to explain why access restrictions have been unchanged for so long, and what is needed to change them.

Congressional leaders have grown impatient over the bureaucratic inaction on restoring and preserving general aviation access to airports and airspace. In late 2003, legislation directed DHS to develop a program to reopen Reagan National Airport to general aviation. Last October, Congress told DHS to report its progress on that directive this month, but thus far, the agency has failed to produce a plan. Increasingly, Congress appears ready to act if DHS will not: Two bills were introduced recently to mandate the reopening of Reagan National to general aviation.

Because safety and security have always been top priorities for the general aviation industry, the tens of thousands of companies operating business aircraft accepted the initial closures and restrictions immediately after September 11. But the continuing constraints to general aviation are needless, and the lack of explanation for them is frustrating.

General aviation seeks a system to enable private operators who are security qualified to access now restricted airports and airspace, and strike the right balance between our personal freedoms and homeland security.

Simply put, those working in the general aviation community want safe, secure and reliable access to the same freedom of mobility as everyone else. Now is the time to act.

Edward M. Bolen is president and chief executive officer of the National Business Aviation Association.

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