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SSA Working to Preserve M-ASA Soaring Site

For several months SSA volunteers and staff have been working together to resolve critical airspace restrictions that threaten to shut down the Mid-Atlantic Soaring Association (M-ASA) gliderfield at Fairfield, PA. The problem arises when the restricted airspace around Camp David is expanded due to the presence of the President. When the TFR is in place the restricted airspace completely covers the M-ASA field preventing all flight operations. The M-ASA effort headed by club president Glenn Collins is being assisted by SSA volunteer leaders. Negotiations to establish an operating waiver involve representatives from M-ASA, SSA, FAA, the Secret Service and the Department of Defense. Recently SSA met with a key member of the House Aviation sub-committee to review the situation.

Today SSA Chair Jim Short sent a position letter to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. The letter, generally supportive of similar communications from other aviation groups, calls into specific focus the issue facing M-ASA which is different than that faced by most of general and commercial aviation. Short’s letter to Ridge follows…

LETTER FROM SSA CHAIRMAN JIM SHORT TO HOMELAND SECRETARY TOM RIDGE:

April 16, 2003

Dear Secretary Ridge:

The Soaring Society of America submits these comments on behalf of our 15,000 members and the 170 members of the Mid-Atlantic Soaring Association (M-ASA) in order to address two issues: (1) the unwarranted demise of a soaring site within the current 10-mile radius of TFR airspace surrounding P40/R4009, and; (2) the reported Department of Defense (DOD) request to expand this TFR's onerous restrictions to a 30-mile radius, concentric with a 10 nm radius"no-fly" zone.

The first issue involves the threatened closure of the M-ASA-owned, public-use airport 8 1/2 miles northeast of Camp David, near Fairfield, PA. M-ASA bought this site in 1976 and facilities here have grown to include 5 hangars, a pilot lounge, secure fueling services and a campground. Home to 73 aircraft including 66 gliders, the airport is open year-round and most soaring operations are conducted on weekends and holidays. The development of this soaring site represents a significant investment by M-ASA members and losing the site would cause them unrecoverable economic harm.

The second issue threatens not only closure of M-ASA's Fairfield site but also cessation or curtailment of M-ASA's other glider operation at the publicly -owned Frederick Municipal Airport in Maryland. An additional 35 gliders are based here and notably, M-ASA is not only Frederick's longest-tenured airport tenant but also holds a long term lease through 2012.

Based on these issues, SSA asserts that (1) P40 and R4009 airspace dimensions must remain as currently defined; and (2) the Camp David TFR must not only retain its current dimensions but also accommodate soaring through the Fairfield plan previously agreed upon by SSA, M-ASA, FAA and USSS.

M-ASA Operations Under Siege

As M-ASA celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, the TFR surrounding P40/R4009 was a major concern for club members. Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, TFR airspace expanded to an 8-mile radius. Thankfully, this was reduced late last April to a 5 mile radius permitting M-ASA operations at both Fairfield and Frederick locations, although on most normal operating days, direct flight between the two sites was impossible. At Fairfield in particular, transient airplane traffic density increased dramatically around the outskirts of the TFR and cross-country flight options dwindled because access to the Catoctin Mountain area was cut off. As a result of the 5-nm TFR radius in effect during prime soaring season from May through October last year, soaring operations - which numbered 11,000 in 2001 - decreased by more than 20% to 8600 in 2002.

The TFR was expanded without notice or explanation in November, 2002 to the current 10-nm radius within which soaring is prohibited from the surface to 18,000' MSL. Without relief of some sort, this renders M-ASA's Fairfield site useless to club members whenever the TFR is in effect. Since this change, the 10-mile TFR surrounding P40/R4009 has been active on most weekends and to date in 2003, M-ASA's Fairfield site has only been operational one Sunday

The current situation is intolerable to M-ASA and SSA. Additionally, we understand, the Department of Defense seeks to expand the Camp David TFR surrounding P40/R4009 to a 30-nm radius concentric with a 10-nm radius "no fly" zone. Without a doubt, this proposed revision amounts to a confiscatory action against M-ASA's Fairfield soaring site; moreover, if the same TFR restrictions now applicable to flight between 5 and 10-nm radii of Camp David were imposed in a 10-nm to 30-nm ring, this would effectively end M-ASA operations at Frederick.

A cooperative effort by M-ASA and SSA, FAA and USSS, offers a solution to the first issue.

M-ASA and SSA initiated discussions with the FAA and the US Secret Service late last year. These discussions yielded an operating plan which, as FAA and Secret Service representatives agreed, would enable M-ASA's weekend operations to continue at Fairfield without compromising Camp David security. Indeed, as USSS representatives candidly noted, gliders' small size, light weight, slow cruising speeds and dependence on variable weather conditions mean these aircraft present no quantifiable security threat. FAA representatives for their part acknowledged that there is longstanding precedent for Air Traffic Control procedures to accommodate gliders' operational constraints.

In many ways, the Fairfield plan is similar to Letters of Agreement which have been in place for decades, providing gliders needed flexibility within the National Airspace System. Like these, the Fairfield plan (1) requires M-ASA's pre-flight coordination with FAA and in this case, USSS; (2) requires that this coordination process include M-ASA providing aircraft and pilot ID information; (3) establishes communications procedures so pilots are advised of any change in airspace status; (4) establishes a specific area outside of P40/R4009, within which glider flight may be authorized; and (5) establishes procedures through which FAA or USSS can require any or all gliders to exit the designated glider area laterally and/or descend and land as soon as safely possible.

This solution is blocked by unexplained DOD opposition and their unwarranted request for TFR expansion.

In late March, 2003, as M-ASA was expecting to finalize the agreement, they were advised by USSS that the Fairfield plan found acceptable to M-ASA, SSA, FAA and USSS was summarily dismissed by DOD without explanation. Neither M-ASA nor SSA has, through FAA or USSS contacts, been able to determine the reason for DOD opposition or the appropriate DOD contact with whom their concerns may be discussed, much less addressed.

In fact, as AOPA comments submitted April 9 note, DOD now requests expansion of the Camp David TFR, which according to AOPA President Phil Boyer, "does not appear to be in response to any specific credible threat, nor does it address any ongoing security concern posed by general aviation," and "At no time in its 61-year history has Camp David been subject to an airspace restriction of this magnitude."

SSA would add only that in contrast to AOPA's concern for through-flights by general aviation airplanes, we see the current Camp David TFR around P40/R4009 as the death knell for M-ASA's Fairfield soaring site. We also see proposed expansion of this TFR as a harbinger of the same fate for M-ASA operations at Frederick.

SSA therefore requests that (1) P40 and R4009 airspace dimensions remain as currently defined; and (2) the Camp David TFR not only retain its current dimensions but also accommodate soaring through the Fairfield plan previously agreed upon by SSA, M-ASA, FAA and USSS.

Respectfully,

Jim Short
SSA Chairman

Posted: 4/16/2003 By: General News


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