News copters likely to regain wings


Now that Congress has passed an aviation security bill, news choppers
should be able to regain full flying privileges under an amendment included by
Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.).

After Sept. 11, the FAA grounded all aircraft that did
not have to file a flight plan with authorities, and that included news
helicopters and all planes that fly using only visual guides.

The FAA has released most of those planes to fly, but news choppers in the top 30 markets have remained grounded.

They got some relief earlier this month when the FAA
ruled that choppers could fly as long as they filed a flight plan, stuck to it,
and did not hover or waver from their course.

News choppers in New York and Dallas have returned to the air, but without the freedom to operate they previously enjoyed.

Under Mica's provision, news helicopters can ask the FAA for waivers. The FAA then has 30 days to deny the waiver request. If the agency chooses to deny a request, it has to explain why in the Federal Register. That provision was added because the FAA has never made clear why it has continued to ground news choppers, said a Mica spokesman.

Mica chairs the House Aviation subcommittee and represents Florida, which has been particularly hard hit by the FAA's action since most aircraft that fly without relying on instruments operate in fair-weather states.
- Paige Albiniak