Changes In The Air Around D.C.

RJones

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Just when restriction seemed to be the daily flavor for aviation around the nation's capital, the feds decided to give pilots a little more leeway. At Washington Reagan National Airport (DCA), closed to GA operations since 9/11, discussions this week suggested that the Department of Transportation could have a plan in place as soon as the end of this month that would allow GA back into the airport. The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), AOPA, and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) all reported yesterday that they were encouraged by meetings with the DOT and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). "The DOT said they are committed to implementing this plan as soon as possible," according to the NBAA. The six-point plan outlined yesterday by the DOT would include: vetting and certification of flight-deck crewmembers, advance clearance of passenger manifests by the TSA, screening of passengers and accessible property, securing and physical inspection of aircraft, compliance with DCA Air Traffic Control special flight procedures, and compliance inspections and penalties. GAMA President Ed Bolen said in a press release yesterday, "[Tuesday], at an industry briefing, and again today at a Congressional hearing, the Department of Transportation said that their objective is to have Reagan National open to general aviation by the end of the month. That is great news." AOPA said the plan does include procedures to accommodate individual pilots who fly into the airport.

And on Monday, FAA Administrator Jane Garvey announced the agency had deployed one of the components of its Free Flight technology at Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center. The User Request Evaluation Tool (URET) is a computer program that helps controllers grant pilot requests to change their flight path in favor of a more direct route or a different altitude. The software allows controllers to look 20 minutes into the future of a flight path. If a pilot wants a different route, the controller punches in the request. Immediately, the controller is advised if the request is safe. Previously, the controller relied on paper flight strips and mental calculations. As a result of URET, pilots now receive more direct routes and the airlines are saving time and money. "With more direct routes, Free Flight helps bring shorter flights to passengers," said Garvey. "This technology helps pilots, controllers, and the person sitting in row 15, seat B." URET has already been in operation in Kansas City, Cleveland, Chicago, Indianapolis and Memphis. In the Indianapolis and Memphis airspaces, the FAA estimates it is saving the airlines a combined $1.5 million per month and increasing direct routings by 20 percent. There are numerous other components of the FAA's Free Flight program in various stages of deployment throughout the nation's air traffic control system. Maybe someday they'll all work together.
 
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