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Air space over oil disaster restricted, media access limited

By Lynn Herrmann     Jun 12, 2010 in Politics
BP’s latest efforts at containing the oil spill were given a huge assist this week by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), by way of temporary flight restrictions over much of the Deepwater Horizon well’s impacted area.
A new Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) issued late Wednesday night restricts air flights over BP’s Gulf of Mexico catastrophe and ultimately limits the media’s ability to provide current photography and video of much of the affected area. A map on the FAA website shows the controlled air space stretches from Louisiana to Florida and off-shore below the well site.
In part, the NOTAM states: “All aircraft operations are prohibited except those flights authorized by ATC, routine flights supporting offshore oil operations; federal, state, local and military flight operations supporting oil spill recovery and reconstitution efforts; and air medical and law enforcement operations.”
It goes on to state that numerous low level operations associated with the blown-out well have forced the restricted air space below 3,000 feet. These low level operations include aircraft making “sudden changes in direction, speed, and altitude.”
This latest move by a federal agency gives a clear indication of who is actually in charge of the US government. Blocking media access to much of the area where the oil debacle is most visible helps validate earlier reports by the media about restricted travel over and into the contaminated zone.
The NOTAM, issued on June 9 by the FAA, is a direct contradiction to President Obama’s insistence that BP provide more transparency, as noted in a letter from Obama’s point man, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, to BP CEO Tony Hayward.
The FAA notice also impacts documentary efforts of the worst man-made environmental disaster in the country’s history and will help BP in its containment efforts at public opinion, seeing how its containment efforts with the blown-out well have been futile thus far.
The New York Times reports journalists are repeatedly being denied access to public areas impacted by the environmental polluter’s unimpeded assault on the food chain. Those denying access to the media include not only BP, but local law enforcement, government officials and the US Coast Guard.
Michael Oreskes, a senior managing editor with the Associated Press, compares the Gulf situation with the embedding of reporters and military operations in Afghanistan.
“There is a continued effort to keep control over the access,” Mr. Oreskes said. “And even in places where the government is cooperating with us to provide access, it’s still a problem because it’s still access obtained through the government.”
In the NOTAM, the FAA identifies the nature of the oil catastrophe as being “dynamic” and for that reason all approved flights are subject to last-minute changes or cancellations.
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