The Federal Aviation Administration has released the final version of a rule making the Washington, D.C., Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) – the only such zone within the borders of the United States – a permanent fixture in American airspace.
The change comes despite congressional inquiries, negative economic studies, more than 22,000 written comments from pilot in opposition to the rule, and an all-out effort by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association to convince officials that the ADIZ is an unreasonable, burdensome security restriction.
“It’s extremely disappointing that the ADIZ – something that was hastily implemented as a temporary measure – has become federal regulation,” said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs. “We have never given up trying to eliminate the ADIZ, working with security officials, members of Congress, the White House and the FAA.”
The ADIZ, which was imposed in February 2003 during the weeks leading up to the Iraq War, will become the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Area Special Flight Rules Area starting by late February. A similar ADIZ was imposed over New York City at the same time, but was rescinded in April 2003 as no longer necessary.
The dimensions and operational rules for the Special Flight Rules Area will remain the same as the current 30-nautical-mile-radius ADIZ, which extends from the surface up to 18,000 feet and includes an outer ring extending to 60 nm, in which pilots must observe an airspeed limit. Anyone who willfully violates the ADIZ will still be subject to criminal penalties. Current special procedures allowing easier access to Leesburg Executive Airport in northern Virginia will not be part of the final rule, but will remain in effect under separate FAA action.
“Operationally, nothing changes for pilots,” Cebula said, “but issuing an ADIZ final rule is a concern because a temporary flight restriction was imposed without consulting airspace users, and later made ‘permanent’ with no documented justification.” FAA and security officials have never provided a specific, intelligence-based threat assessment to justify the ADIZ to Congress or the pilot community, Cebula stated. Congress has called on security officials numerous times to testify about whether the ADIZ was necessary, and to point out the economic impact it has had on airports in the area.
AOPA commissioned a 2005 economic study which showed that 10 of the 13 airports analyzed inside the ADIZ were losing about $43 million in annually in wages, revenue, taxes and local spending. The association was successful in getting the size of the ADIZ reduced from its original “Mickey Mouse” shape, encompassing the Baltimore-Washington Class B airspace, to its current 30 nm radius. However, AOPA also had lobbied that it be further reduced to a 20 nm radius, or eliminated, because the government never provided evidence that it has resulted in any measurable increase in security.
“While this is a final rule,” Cebula concluded, “circumstances and conditions evolve, and rules can be changed.”