Going Direct: Why NYC White House Would Be A Security Nightmare

President-elect Trump’s plan to base out of New York City raises tricky security and access questions.

When Donald Trump won the United States presidential election in early November, he did so in part because of his promise to “drain the swamp” that he believes Washington, D.C. politics to be. Now it seems that part of his plan was to get away from the Beltway altogether and base administrative operations out of New York City. But moving an administration from the relative confines of the nation’s capital to the heart of the nation’s largest city will make us vulnerable to a number of security threats, some of which will be difficult, if not impossible, to mitigate.

It’s a given that none of us has forgotten the attacks of September 11, 2001, or the thousands of innocent men, women and children who were killed when terrorists hijacked four planes, crashing two of them into the World Trade Center towers in New York City and another into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Nor have we forgotten the innocent lives lost when a fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania, killing all aboard.

The attacks were the impetus for the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration, two bodies that have helped prevent another large-scale terrorist attack in the United States for the past 15 years and counting.

As travellers, we all know the lengths that these new organizations have gone to in order to head off attacks before they can happen. One of those efforts, created in the wake of 9/11 and as we were going to war in Iraq, was the creation of the Washington, D.C. Special Flight Rules Area, which cordons off a 30 nm ring of airspace from the surface to 18,000 feet centered on Reagan Washington National Airport (KDCA), requiring all flights that enter the airspace to be piloted by known individuals who have special training in the SFRA’s procedures. In creating this new, one-of-a-kind airspace, the government had to clamp down on operations at three nearby GA airports and reroute traffic at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The design of the new airspace was complex, and the only reason it was doable was that there were already very few airports within the immediate vicinity of the Capital District, and flight activity, due to D.C.’s location approximately 90 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean, was already heavily restricted airspace, even before 9/11.

Now, let’s quickly imagine how such restrictions would be implemented in New York City, which within or bordering directly on a 30-mile ring (of midtown Manhattan) lie three of the busiest airports in the country, LaGuardia (KLGA), Newark (KEWR) and JFK (KJFK), as well as three of the most critical GA airports, Teterboro (KTEB), Westchester County (HPN) and Farmingdale Republic (KFRG).

There are, additionally, a few seaplane bases, helicopter ports and a pair of VFR corridors on either side of Manhattan, that not only are there for pilots to enjoy the up-close views of the city, but for business traffic—everything from new helicopters to commercial sightseeing flights. How a flight restrictions area would work with a couple of VFR corridors down the middle of it is beyond me. It wouldn’t.

If you fly or have flown in this general area—I called it home for a decade during which the attacks took place—you know how finely crafted the airspace already is to allow so much air traffic to coexist peacefully (well, semi-peacefully), to the point where departure procedures are critically specific at several of these airports to keep pilots from busting someone else’s airspace. Now, imagine how little of a change it would take to throw a wrench into the fine gears of such an airspace creation and how many unforeseen problems such a rewrite might include.

On top of that, there are countless non-aviation-related security risks associated with operating in Midtown, almost all of them related to the huge amount of traffic—vehicular, pedestrian and marine—that plies the streets, bridges, tunnels and waterways of the city.

If President-Elect Trump chooses to base his administration’s operations out of New York City, there are only two ways it can go: Either unworkable, financially crippling and risky new restrictions are put in place to protect his presence in the city, or we all live with the risk inherent to our administration doing its work without further flight restrictions in the middle of the city that was at the center of the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Neither option is acceptable.

If you want more commentary on all things aviation, go to our Going Direct blog archive.

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