WASHINGTON – Private pilots have violated restricted airspace over Washington 43 times since March 20, an increase that prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to put out special notice of the restrictions Friday.
FAA officials speculate that nicer weather over New York and Washington may have led to the recent increase in airspace violations over those two cities, as more private pilots go flying. New York has had 66 violations since March 20.
"We are trying to get the word out to the pilot community," said Joe McNeil, of the flight standards region of FAA during a telephone conference Friday. "It is very important to understand that this is the busiest airspace in the country."
The Air Defense Identification Zone is different than the 15-mile no-fly zone around the Washington Monument that was imposed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. The larger zone was put in place Feb. 10 around Washington, during the first orange-level terror alert, and put in place March 18 around New York, before the start of the Iraq war.
Planes can fly through the ADIZ, but must first establish communication with the appropriate air-traffic controller, and maintain contact while operating in the zone.
That has doubled the number of flights that air-traffic controllers have to deal with since this time last year, according to FAA officials.
While the FAA is working on ways to ease the process, McNeil said there are things pilots should do to help.
"If you are going to fly ... squawk and talk to avoid being pulled over by a traffic controller," McNeil said.
The restricted airspace has been violated a couple of different ways, said Jim Peters, spokesman in the FAA's New York office.
For pilots who wander in and out of the restricted airspace, the FAA might radio the plane and ticket them when they get to the airport.
Other times, he said, pilots have been met by a military helicopter or a fighter jet to be escorted out of the space.
A spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association said there have been problems with the way the FAA system works, but he conceded that there are some pilots who do not check the notices before taking flight.
AOPA spokesman Warren Morningstar said that pilots go through extensive training and must learn new stuff with each restriction. He said the FAA's system for getting new flight-restriction information to pilots is "pretty creaky," noting that pilots sometimes have to read preflight briefing on paper rolls that can be 30 feet long.
"The creaky system was designed in the '70s — they still use a mainframe," Morningstar said.
But he said pilots understand the need for the restrictions.
"After Sept. 11 things have been changing and changing rapidly," Morningstar said.
The identification zone around Washington includes overlapping rings that each extend 22.5 miles from the Baltimore/Washington International, Reagan National and Washington Dulles International airports, said William Shumann, a Washington spokesman for the FAA.
He said pilots who violate the zone restrictions could have their licenses suspended for 30 to 90 days.