The DC ADIZ Visual Warning System (“CWS”) received its first test on Monday when a Canadian registered Cessna 340 lost radio contact with ATC while flying through the restricted airspace. The C-340 was on a flight plan and authorized to fly through the restricted airspace when it was apparently struck by lightning and suffered a communications failure. Although the C-340 did not squack 7600 to indicate communications failure, I guess this isn’t too surprising since the lightning probably damaged the transponder along with the other radios. However, because he C-340 was in instrument meteorological conditions at the time, ATC was unable to use the VWS because the lasers will not shine through the clouds.
Of course, if the C-340 continued to follow its flight plan, as required when communication failure is experienced in IMC, I am not sure why the VWS would have even been necessary. With loss of communications procedures established in the Airman’s Information Manual, especially when the loss was not the result of the pilot’s actions, the flight should be left to continue as filed and previously cleared. ATC could simply monitor the progress of the aircraft to determine whether it was following its flight plan. If the aircraft deviated, ATC could then scramble an intercept.
Additionally, according to the National Climactic Data Center, clouds covered at least 88 percent of the sky over Reagan Washington National Airport during daylight hours for 162 days last year. This means that for almost half the year, aircraft may be flying in or above the clouds through the restricted airspace and the VWS will be unusable for those aircraft. I guess this just goes to show that the VWS is just another nominally effective “security measure” that is really only intended for the small aircraft flying low and slow beneath the clouds. The very aircraft that pose an extremely minimal threat, if any. Sure makes me feel safe.