Hopes high for D.C. heliport reopening to civil ops
The manager of Washington, D.C.’s South Capitol Street Heliport (09W) said he is optimistic that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will approve a plan that complies with security requirements which will permit the reopening of the facility to corporate traffic. Heliport manager Don Scimonelli said an interagency group is “working on a good solution” that would let security-cleared aircraft back in to 09W but that the development was “still brand new.”
The heliport is located on the Anacostia River one mile northeast of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) and is home base to D.C. Metro Police’s aviation unit and select transient medevac and military flights. The facility opened in 1988 and at its apex had 41 regular corporate operators. After 9/11 and until 2005, limited commercial operations were allowed at 09W provided they complied with FAA Notams and TSA requirements; however, since then they have been prohibited because of security concerns.
Scimonelli credited the intervention of D.C. congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton for moving the TSA to reexamine its civil traffic ban on the heliport. Last November, Norton, a senior member of both the House Aviation Subcommittee and Homeland Security Committee, sent a letter to TSA Administrator John Pistole that urged a reconsideration. Norton said the government’s action amounted to “takeover of a private facility without compensation” despite “the willingness of the heliport to submit to whatever structures and regulations the government chose to impose on them.”
Her objection was echoed in an earlier, and unsuccessful, lawsuit brought against the federal government by Air Pegasus, the heliport’s operator between 1992 and 2002.
The U.S. Court of Claims dismissed the lawsuit that, in effect, charged the government with a de facto unlawful taking of property via regulation. The U.S. Court of Appeals upheld that ruling, noting that it is the government’s right to control airspace, and that a private party’s property rights do not extend to said airspace. The Appeals Court noted that while the FAA action may have adversely impacted Air Pegasus, “there was not a taking of any cognizable property interest of Air Pegasus.”
Norton is recommending that 09W be reopened with security requirements for private aircraft that mirror those already in place at DCA, including nonstop flights only, designated gateway airports and heliports, and passenger and crew screening. She said continuing to deny civilian use of 09W is “a violation of due process” and “punitive” to the local economy.
At the time civil service to the heliport was suspended there were plans in the works to establish scheduled helicopter service between it, the Wall Street Heliport in New York City and commercial airports in Washington, D.C., and New York.
Scimonelli said the heliport sees an average of two to three operations per day, but that some 15 corporate operators have expressed an interest in resuming flights there. If these flights do resume, he said he expectd they initially would amount to no more than one to two additional operations per day. “They will not be coming in droves,” he said.
For now, Scimonelli said the volume of military and medevac flights using the heliport is increasing. Medevac flights landing at 09W primarily are transporting patients to Washington’s George Washington or Children’s hospitals or the John Hopkins hospital in Baltimore. Occasionally, medevac helicopters are forced to remain overnight due to winter weather concerns. Scimonelli said those flights typically are cleared to the heliport under special VFR. Work on an instrument approach to 09W was suspended in 2005, he said, because the heliport owner “did not have the money to complete it. Our growth has been stunted.”