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"Private Pilots Expect Some Relief From Easing of Flight Restrictions"

Wednesday, December 19, 2001    

Private Pilots Expect Some Relief From Easing of Flight Restrictions

WASHINGTON -- Private pilots, hit hard by flight restrictions imposed
immediately after the Sept. 11 hijackings, expect to get some relief
from the Department of Transportation Wednesday.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, working under a deadline set by
Congress, is expected to lift some important airspace restrictions
around 30 metropolitan areas. Still, six airports that cater to
general-aviation business near Washington may remain shut.

The rules have banned whole categories of nonpassenger aviation,
including news, traffic, and banner-towing flights, although some pilots
have received waivers allowing them to fly in and out of individual
airports. Unless Mr. Mineta extends the restrictions, they will end
nationwide Wednesday.

"If these rules are lifted, it would return conditions almost back to
where they were on Sept. 10," said Warren Morningstar, spokesman for the
Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the world's largest
civil-aviation organization, which has been pushing hard for relief.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are also pushing to provide financial help to
the nation's general-aviation industry. The House Aviation Subcommittee
last week approved $2.5 billion in direct grants and $5 billion in loan
guarantees to those in the general-aviation industry who have suffered
"severe economic injury as a result of the terrorist attacks."

Nevertheless, one category of general aviation is an exception to the
trend: Corporate charter flights ferrying executives have seen their
business increase as much as 30% since the attacks as executives seek to
avoid the hassles and risks of commercial flights.

While passenger airlines and air-delivery services such as FedEx Corp.'s
Federal Express resumed operations shortly after the terrorist attacks
on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, nonairline pilots, who account
for 80% of the nation's aviators, have faced a variety of restrictions
that complicate their flight planning. Many pleasure pilots have
curtailed flying -- or stopped altogether -- since the attacks.

The restrictions have created confusion, disruption and financial
hardship for the airports and companies that serve general-aviation
pilots and their planes. Jim Coyne, president of the National Air
Transportation Association, said the flight restrictions cost his 2,000
member businesses between $300 million and $500 million through
mid-October, and have resulted in layoffs of thousands of employees.

Although general aviation constitutes a large and powerful lobby, trade
groups said they have had a tough time easing or clarifying temporary
flight restrictions for small planes. In part, that is because the
National Security Council has taken responsibility for certain airspace
decisions since Sept. 11. Lobbyists and trade associations for pilot
groups said they hope the new Office of Homeland Security, which
recently took over aspects of airspace regulation from the NSC, will be
more inclined to lift restrictions.

The most annoying problem for pilots has been the increase in Federal
Aviation Administration "notices to airmen," authorizing temporary
airport shutdowns and no-fly zones for security and other reasons. In
October, the number of notices restricting flights totaled 127, nearly
40% more than levels before Sept. 11.

Kevin Rosengren said his suburban Washington flying club lost four of
its 30 members after restrictions forced the club to move from Maryland
to Virginia, and remaining members are losing patience with
ever-changing flight restrictions that complicate planning for
once-simple trips. "Our people are finding it's just too restrictive --
and too expensive -- to keep flying in all this," he said.


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