House calls for choppers to fly

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House members want the Federal Aviation Administration to get news
helicopters and other aircraft off the ground, they said during a hearing in the
House Aviation Subcommittee Wednesday.

News choppers have been banned from flying in the top-30 metro markets since
Sept. 11. That affects the majority of news helicopters that fly -- some 144 out
of 200.

Radio-Television News Directors Association president Barbara Cochran said
keeping news helicopters from flying likely violates the constitution.

'We believe this restriction is constitutionally suspect,' Cochran said. 'The
Supreme Court has recognized a First Amendment right of access to public
information and places, particularly where the area sought to be accessed has
historically been open to the public.'

Even lawmakers do not know why the FAA has chosen to keep news helicopters
and other small aircraft grounded. They repeatedly asked Steven Brown, the FAA's
acting associate administrator for air-traffic services, to clarify the
logic.

Brown said many of the reasons were classified and could not be disclosed. He
added that the final decision is in the hands of the National Security Council
and other related security agencies, and not the FAA.

That answer wasn't good enough for many of the subcommittee's members. 'The
FAA is responsible for the paradox being pointed out today,' said Rep. Robin
Hayes (R-N.C.). 'You are to blame. It's past time to get these questions
answered. To continue this charade of who's on first is counterproductive,
countereverything.'

The NSC refused to send a representative to speak at Wednesday's hearing, but
Brown said helicopters in particular are a security concern because of their
ability to hover in a fixed location in low altitudes.

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