ANNAPOLIS – The Federal Aviation Administration scaled back restricted airspace around Washington on Thursday, easing limits for 33 airports and helipads, but not for some smaller Maryland airports — which are not happy about being left out.
Officials described the previous restricted space as a mouse’s head, with an area encircling Reagan National Airport and two protruding “ears” circling Baltimore/Washington International Airport and Dulles International Airport.
“We basically cut the ears off,” said FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown. “One-third of violations into the airspace were from pilots unintentionally transiting across the ears, and never heading toward the area we really care about, the heart of the center circle.”
The new Air Defense Identification Zone is a 30-nautical-mile radius around the capital region, which should make it easier for pilots to calculate whether or not they are entering the area.
“The changes should result in less violations, and less consternation, with an equal level of security,” said Jonathan Dean, spokesman for the Maryland Aviation Administration. “It will also reduce the burden on pilots entering the space.”
Previously, pilots had to measure their distance from each of the airports to calculate whether or not they were entering restricted space. The new space provides one navigational aid, the center of the circle, to make it easier to navigate in the region.
Airports in the region complained that they lost business because the odd shape of the airspace led pilots and flight instructors to believe it was too difficult to operate in the area, Brown said.
She said airports argued that “fuel suppliers, maintenance workers, food concessions, and others would feel” the lost business if the zone was made permanent.
Flight schools and recreational fliers saw the most effects, Dean said, but even Martin State Airport reported a drop in take-offs and landings when the restrictions were in place.
In 2002, before the restrictions, there were 129,452 take-offs and landings at Martin State. There were just 84,083 from June 2006 to June 2007.
Dean agreed that the drop in air traffic trickled down to hit other airport employees and services, but hoped the latest FAA move would change that.
But other airports do not expect to see any changes, since their facilities will still be in the restricted flight zone.
John Luke III, airport manager at Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg, said all he expects to see is a quicker response when pilots file flight plans, since the FAA will add more controllers at Potomac TRACON, which supports safety and security in the ADIZ.
“Other than that, it will just be business as usual here,” he said.
The big winners on the Maryland side are those who will no longer be under the restrictions, said Boni Caldeira, a flight instructor from Gaithersburg. But he said it is still not what it should be.
“I would think that we would like to see all airports being better off rather than just some,” he said, “and we’re no better off than we were a week ago, or yesterday.”