WASHINGTON, DC -- The Office of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today released her letter to Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) Administrator John Pistole requesting that the TSA re-open the South Capitol Street Heliport (SCSH), the only publicly accessible heliport in the city, which TSA shut down to public access in 2005, after permitting the heliport to operate with limited public access for several years after 9/11. Norton also submitted a proposal for resuming helicopter service to the District. In her letter, she argued that shutting down the very heliport that government agencies used as a command center on September 11, 2001 and in the days following the terrorist attacks is an affront to common sense, service, commercial necessity, and basic justice. Every heliport in the country opened shortly after 9/11, including those in New York City, where terrorist attacks occurred.
The new proposal includes a two-hour advance notice for requests to land here, limited to only non-stop flights initially, and only from five heliports. Opened in 1998, the heliport brought significant business to the District and region, peaking at 41 corporate operators, including motion picture industry helicopters, many business aviation clients, emergency management operators and the Metropolitan Police Department, which still uses SCSH as its aircraft base. In the aftermath of 9/11, TSA imposed a waiver program, significantly reducing the number of helicopter flights to the District by requiring that pilots get waivers and report all passengers, crew and security personnel aboard all flights whenever they sought to fly to the District. Then, without any warning or explanation, the TSA abruptly halted even the limited waiver program flights and prohibited all commercial operations altogether, without any due process, input in the decision from the heliport or its users, means to appeal, or even so much as an explanation. Norton wrote, "Despite SCSH's generous and vital assistance to first responders and others on and after 9/11, and its steadfast pursuit of an appeal, SCSH remains closed nearly ten years after 9/11 except for use by law enforcement, military and medical evacuation traffic." She said that, "it amounted to a government takeover of a private facility without compensation, and should have been unthinkable for our government to adopt practices characteristic of authoritarian government, despite the willingness of the heliport to submit to whatever structures and regulations the government chose to impose on them, and then to turn around and use the facility for its own government purposes."
Norton is particularly pressing now to reopen the heliport in light of the economic downturn. With the region improving economically, she believes that the heliport could boost recovery of the city and the region. She intends to enlist her colleagues as well in this effort.
"As we near a decade of post-9/11 security, I hope you agree that it is time to review and revise a reactionary decision the nation was forced to make after 9/11," she wrote. Norton, who is a member of both the Homeland Security Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, will give TSA opportunity to study her proposal and then will ask Administrator Pistole to come in to discuss all the options.
Norton's full letter follows.
Transportation Security Administration
601 South Twelfth Street
Arlington, VA 20598
Dear Administrator Pistole:
As we near a decade of post-9/11 security, I hope you agree that it is time to review and revise a reactionary decision the nation was forced to make after 9/11. I write to urge you to allow the re-opening of the South Capitol Street Heliport (SCSH) for business aviation helicopter traffic. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11), the newly formed Transportation Security Administration (TSA) systematically shut down SCSH to business aviation without any explanation or means to appeal the sweeping, arbitrary regulations. Despite SCSH's generous and vital assistance to first responders and others on and after 9/11, and its steadfast pursuit of an appeal, SCSH remains closed nearly ten years after 9/11 except for use by law enforcement, military and medical evacuation traffic.
SCSH opened in 1998, following a fiscal year 1984 transportation appropriations bill directing the Secretary of Transportation to conduct a feasibility study of a downtown Washington, D.C. heliport. SCSH quickly grew from five regular corporate operators to 41, and its clientele included motion picture industry helicopters and many other business aviation clients, emergency management operations and the Metropolitan Police Department, which still uses SCSH as its aircraft base, with 12 officers. For years, SCSH thrived and brought a great deal of business into the District.
On 9/11, when terrorists struck the Pentagon and all air travel was grounded, the SCSH played an indispensable role as a base of operations for first responders. For several days after 9/11, SCSH essentially operated as a command center, offering not only air but water access for first responders due to its location on the Anacostia River. Helicopters carrying first responders to and from the Pentagon flew continuously for several days after 9/11. However, despite SCSH's service to our country on 9/11, shortly after 9/11 TSA severely limited commercial operations at the heliport by implementing a waiver program whereby helicopter operators were required to report to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and TSA all passengers, crew and security personnel aboard each flight, and then abruptly prohibited commercial operations altogether. The negative economic effect of the shutdown on the region during this severe economic turndown has been substantial and has crippled the operators of SCSH, the only publicly accessible heliport in the city, while the government has been sure to use SCSH facilities only for police, military and emergency operations. Worse, SCSH has been shut out of the decision-making process.
Because of TSA's general aviation ban, SCSH has lost all of its general aviation patrons, such as Honeywell Flight Operations (Honeywell). For many years, Honeywell was a regular user of both Reagan National Airport (DCA) and SCSH, to the great benefit of the national capital region, but following 9/11 Honeywell and other helicopter operations were restricted from D.C. Since 9/11, Honeywell has demonstrated compliance with the requirements of TSA's D.C. Access Standard Security Program (DASSP), which TSA established to ensure that an operator meets the highest level of safety and security requirements and is not a threat. Under the DASSP program, Honeywell has become one of the top five business aviation users of DCA; however, they remain unable to use SCSH.
Surely, if companies have DASSP approval to operate at DCA, they should be given authorization to operate at SCSH. Accordingly, I have outlined a proposal below that I believe can be used for re-opening SCSH to DASSP-approved operators.
Proposal for South Capitol Street Heliport In-Bound Operations
1) Allow all DASSP-approved operators.
2) DASSP waiver request to be submitted at least two hours prior to departure.
3) Prior to takeoff, after crew/passenger screening is completed, the flight crew calls the National Capital Region
Coordination Center to receive final clearance for departure.
4) Non-stop flights only.
5) Flight plan to be filed with Leesburg Flight Service Station.
6) Permit flights from five gateway heliports with TSA screening: Wall Street Heliport, New York, NY; W 30th Street
Heliport, New York, NY; East 34th Street Heliport, New York, NY; Penn's Landing Heliport, Philadelphia, PA; and Pier 7
Heliport, Baltimore, MD.
7) No Armed Security Officer required.
8) TSA screeners to be provided by TSA as needed, at a cost. An alternative to TSA screeners: use Aviation Contract
Screeners (ACS) or local police designated by the TSA to act as federal screeners.
9) Additional gateway heliports to be added after success with first five: Morristown, NJ; Wings Field, North East
Philadelphia, PA; Stewart Airport, Newburgh, NY; Poughkeepsie Airport, Poughkeepsie, NY; Farmingdale Airport,
This proposal for operations is similar to TSA's United Nations General Assembly temporary flight restriction put in place every September in New York city, although more restrictive in that all operators will be DASSP-approved. The requirement for TSA screening at heliports is to facilitate more efficient transport from city center to city center. It is inefficient to make helicopters depart from heliports, fly to an airport for screening, and then continue to their destination heliport.
The prolonged and uncompensated shutdown of SCSH is a violation of due process the heliport and punitive to the economy of this region. Please scrutinize the proposal I have outlined. I will seek to schedule a meeting with you shortly to discuss this and other alternatives.
Eleanor Holmes Norton
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