Airport reopens, with new restrictions on flights
Truckee Tahoe Airport reopened with the rest of the nation’s airports last Friday after operations were shut down by the Federal Aviation Administration following terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.
With the airport eerily quiet on the morning of the attacks, airport General Manager David Gotschall had time to speculate about what the terrorist attacks would mean to airport security.
“The security measures that are going to be implemented as a result of this to try and prevent this type of attack from reoccurring are going to be very onerous and are going to have a significant impact on the aviation industry and Americans who fly,” Gotschall said last Tuesday.
By the end of the week, Gotschall was scrambling to sort through the directives coming out of the FAA via fax from Reno, while also trying to run the airport.
Commercial flights, including the chartered planes that fly out of Truckee Tahoe Airport, were cleared on a limited basis.
“You don’t normally see people out here waiting,” Gotschall said on Friday morning, as a group of eight travelers waited outside his office to board their chartered KingAir Beechcraft back to the Midwest. “They tried to get out of here yesterday.”
Until late Friday, all general aviation flight activities were still grounded, with only medical, rescue, firefighting and law enforcement exempt. When the ban was lifted, several restrictions remained in effect, including a ban on flying under Visual Flight Rules, or VFR.
All general aviation flights now required to file Instrument Flight Rules plans (IFR) with the FAA before taking off.
“An IFR plan means you are in contact with someone at all times,” said Roger Jones, a pilot at Truckee Tahoe Airport.
Jones also tows gliders for Soar Truckee, but is unable to now because the planes are not equipped for IFR.
“You have to have a two-way radio and a transponder,” Jones said.
Jones questioned the value of continuing the ban, especially considering its economic impacts.
“To me, blocking all general aviation is not going to accomplish a lot. What this is doing is stopping private businesses and putting these businesses in danger of bankruptcy.”
Aside from the restrictions, no additional security measures have been introduced for general aviation airports since last week’s terrorist attacks, but Gotschall thinks that will change.
“I suspect that they are crafting, as we talk, a lot of new regulations that we are going to be required to implement, unfunded federal mandates, for general aviation. Because what they are afraid of is the logic that ‘If they can do it with a large airplane, they can do it with a small one.'”
Gotschall said possible changes could include baggage checks and metal detectors at all airports.
While implementing those changes could be financially crippling right now at Truckee Tahoe Airport, Gotschall said any new mandates could easily be incorporated into the new airport terminal building, which “should break ground in around two years.”
The implications of the attacks also had Gotschall and Jones thinking on a broader scale.
“We are used to taking off and flying up to Quincy, and if we want to, turning around and going back to Minden. You may not be able to do that anymore,” Jones said.
“Right now, we are the freest and most open society in the world. I would hate to see that change,” Gotschall added.