Congresswoman Norton pushes to restore helicopter service in DC

Congresswoman Norton pushes to restore helicopter service in DC

5-Aug-2013 Source: Eleanor Holmes Norton

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) will offer an amendment to the fiscal year 2014 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, which is on the House floor now, that would prevent the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from enforcing its rule that prohibits commercial and most other helicopter operations in the District of Columbia. Norton’s amendment would allow for the South Capitol Street Heliport (SCSH), the only publicly accessible heliport in the city, which the FAA shut down to public access in 2005, after permitting the heliport to operate with limited public access for several years after September 11, 2001, to re-open, which would restore helicopter service in the District. Norton argues 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 time is overdue to change a reactionary decision the nation was forced to make after 9/11,” said Norton. “Despite SCSH’s generous and vital assistance to first responders and others on and after 9/11, and its steadfast pursuit of an appeal of the decision to shut it down, SCSH remains closed more than ten years after 9/11 except for use by law enforcement, military and medical evacuation traffic. It amounts to a government takeover of a private facility without compensation, and should be unthinkable for our government to adopt practices characteristic of authoritarian governments.”

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, the FAA and the Transportation Safety Administration (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 FAA and 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.

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