Back to DCA by way of DASSP

Efforts by Signature and NBAA have lessened bureaucratic responsibilities and obstacles to future bizav ops at National.

By David Bjellos,
Av Mgr, Agro Industrial Management
ATP/Helo, CAM. Gulfstream IVSP, Bell 407

Daily operations have been increasing steadily as the DASSP expands.

On Sep 11, 2001, just before 9:30 am, I watched the very last corporate airplane to land at DCA—a John Deere GV—taxi to the crowded Signature ramp.

We had arrived just minutes earlier in a Coca-Cola GIV. The Boeing 757 that hit the Pentagon a short time later forever changed the way this country views terrorism through the prism of aviation.

In spite of our industry acting with distinction for decades in terms of safety and security, the arbitrary and absolute exclusion from DCA for over 4 years was our greatest shame.
Draconian measures to reinstitute federal air marshals and strengthen cockpit doors allowed airliners to resume normal operations almost immediately.

But for business aircraft, the troubles seemed insurmountable. The knee-jerk political decision to ban business aircraft from DCA was cloaked under the responsibility of the Secret Service—among whose various duties is to protect the Commander in Chief—which saw our presence as a threat, despite the fact that a corporate aircraft had never, ever, been used for terrorism or hijacking.

A one-sided compromise

TSA passenger screening facility at Signature DCA.

Fast forward several years to the introduction of the DCA Access Standard Security Program (DASSP).

Officially begun on Oct 18, 2005, the requirements for entry were strict—inflexible arrival and departure "slots" as allocated by TSA, daylight operations only, the requirement for an armed airborne security officer (ASO) onboard (ostensibly to shoot the owner if he or she makes a threatening move), and a complete "security sweep" of the aircraft cabin at a designated "gateway" airport (only 12 initially), staffed by TSA agents.

The sweep included ensuring no knives or sharp objects were aboard, and early practitioners had to empty their galleys of nearly all utensils. Need­less to say, arrivals at Signature DCA plummeted from pre-Sep 11 figures of 100–125 daily to less than 1 a day.
IBM's Don Menard, former global manager of flight operations for safety and security, was the first to crack the DASSP code, and only a handful of early operators kept corporate operations functioning.

Not surprisingly, the same dedication to excellence that business aviation displays toward safety and compliance was focused equally on DASSP—and the Washington bureaucracy took notice.

The increased confidence level of TSA, spearheaded by the efforts of Brian Delauter—who occupied too briefly the agency's GA general manager position—allowed expansion of DASSP to where we are today. Delauter left TSA for work in the private sector, where he believed traits such as integrity and honor would be valued, and not considered character flaws as they are inside the Beltway.

There are now more than 100 approved screening facilities (including many corporate hangars) at 77 gateway airports. In excess of 150 operators have registered with TSA, and more are added monthly.

The rules have been modified considerably since inception, and continue a returning trend toward "normalcy"—with the exception of the ASO requirement. And there is optimism that this may be relaxed through a system similar to the "trusted traveler" program for your principals and passengers.

Applying for approval

Travel back to DCA is attracting renewed interest. Do the rewards outweigh the risks (read perceived hassle)? And how do you get started? Here is a short list of preliminaries and planning tools for your return:

• After initiating the registration process through the TSA website (, all crewmembers will need a background check and criminal history records check, including fingerprints.

• Determine your closest gateway airport (unless you are lucky enough to be based at one) and develop a relationship with the TSA security coordinator. You can also ask your FBO to register as a gateway facility.

• Once TSA has formally approved you for DASSP ops, you will need to complete the online application for operations into DCA at, with a TSA-issued user name and password.

• 72 hrs before every planned departure, apply for a DCA arrival slot at Once received, save the TSA waiver number for further communications, both on the ground and airborne.

• You have to file a flightplan by calling the Washing­ton hub FSS at 866-225-7410, option 1. (ARINC and other service providers cannot file the plans externally.) The briefers have special authorization for security information input into the NAS for DASSP flights.

• Clear your passengers at the gateway airport facility.

• Monitor 121.5 when approaching the Washington ADIZ and on departure until clear.

A few more intermediate steps are required, but they are neither onerous nor time-consuming.

Signature DCA's commitment

Signature VP Industry and Government Affairs Mary Miller, whose direct involvement with TSA has expanded DASSP considerably.

For the past decade, Signature Flight Support has kept its DCA facility open. Central to this dogged effort has been VP Industry and Government Affairs Mary Miller—the confident guiding hand on DCA Signature's tiller.

"We will continue to maintain a presence and be a resource to the thriving business that is corporate aviation," says Miller. "Traffic levels are growing and we expect further significant interest in returning to DCA as TSA expands the program." She is referring here to the efforts by Kerwin Wilson, general manager of the TSA transportation sector network management's GA division, who took over from Delauter. Wilson's number one stated focus is improving and expanding DASSP.

After a decade's absence, our flight department's recent visit to DCA was uneventful, and much the same as before Sep 11 except for the addition of an ASO. Retired law enforcement or military personnel can qualify, and we were able to find a suitable ASO within our organization. They'll need refresher training every 6 months at an approved TSA firing range using a TSA-approved weapon (and load).


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