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FAA Seeks to Make Airspace Restrictions Over D.C. Permanent

From Associated Press

The federal government wants to permanently restrict airspace over the Washington area and make it a crime for a private pilot to knowingly enter a zone that extends from Maryland to Virginia.

Pilots have strayed hundreds of times since the government temporarily restricted airspace over the capital just before the start of the Iraq war in 2003.

In many cases, fighter jets equipped to shoot down a plane have escorted errant planes to an airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration, in a notice to be published today, called the restrictions necessary because of the continuing threat of terrorism.

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“The success of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon and reports demonstrating terrorist groups’ enduring interest in aviation-related attacks indicate the need for continued vigilance in aviation security,” the FAA said.

The agency said it had no information suggesting any imminent terrorist plan to attack the capital with planes.

The FAA expanded the restricted zone over Washington in February 2003, before the war in Iraq.

Similar limits were imposed after the Sept. 11 attacks.

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The restricted airspace includes an outer ring that has a radius of about 30 miles to 45 miles and an altitude of 18,000 feet.

The zone extends east beyond Baltimore, west beyond Dulles International Airport in Virginia, north to Gaithersburg, Md., and about 30 miles south of Washington.

A plane that flies into this zone must file a flight plan, emit a special signal so air traffic controllers can follow it, and maintain radio contact with the ground.

An inner ring extends about 15 miles from the Washington Monument.

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Most flights are prohibited from this area.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assn., which represents private pilots, opposes the FAA plan.

The group says the outer ring is unnecessary because so many precautions -- including improved radar coverage, antiaircraft missiles and a laser system to warn pilots away from restricted airspace -- have been taken since Sept. 11.

“No general aviation aircraft has ever been used in a terrorist attack,” association President Phil Boyer said in a statement.

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He said no violation of the outer ring had been terrorist related.

Pilots entered the outer zone more than 1,600 times in 2003 and 2004; few were penalized.

Several lawmakers have proposed a mandatory, stiffened penalty.

One proposal would revoke inner-ring violators’ pilot licenses for two to five years and fine them as much as $100,000. Outer-ring violators would be fined up to $5,000.

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The FAA proposal would allow the government to impose criminal penalties -- fines and up to a year in prison -- on anyone who knowingly or willingly entered the outer zone.


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