Even those business aviation operators who may never want to fly into Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport should be able to take advantage of NBAA’s “secure access” program. That’s because gaining entry into DCA is but one facet of the still-developing proposal.
When former NBAA president Shelley Longmuir used the term at a House aviation subcommittee hearing in March, many people thought it was a new name for the TSAAC (TSA Access Certificate) initiative. Actually, it encapsulates all of the security initiatives at NBAA.
“When we talk about secure access, it is the entire security program,” said Dick Doubrava, the association’s new director of security. “Through our initiatives at NBAA–both legislatively and regulatory–we are seeking secure access and we are offering secure access.” The ultimate goal is to have the same airspace access as the airlines.
Thus far, the Transportation Security Administration has bought into the TSAAC concept, and it is listed on the agency’s Web site among the general aviation security initiatives. However, it has been instituted only at Teterboro Airport (TEB) and Morristown Municipal Airport (MMU) in New Jersey and Westchester County Airport (HPN) in White Plains, N.Y., and the only benefit a TSAAC currently provides is a corporate waiver for international flights to and from the U.S.
Doubrava explained that the program was frozen in December, so the current participants are part of what he calls a prototype program. Now NBAA is urging the TSA to measure the performance of the TSAAC and to move forward, using TSAAC as a baseline for any GA security program that allows entry into restricted airspace or DCA.
He said the TSA has “blessed what we have done, they reviewed it all, and they believe it is a good program.” NBAA has been meeting with TSA Acting Administrator David Stone to seek expansion of the program and to provide operational/access benefits to TSAAC holders that reflect their commitment and investment in the program.
“The organizations that are currently involved in TSAAC have made a lot of sacrifices to do so,” said Doubrava. “They’ve made time and resources available with no benefit other than the international waiver program. So we have made it clear to the TSA that to continue what they believe is a very positive program we have to give the participants something in return.”
It is that next step the TSA is struggling with. At a meeting with Doubrava and NBAA interim president Don Baldwin in mid-June, Stone said he was expecting his staff to draft a recommendation memo on expansion of TSAAC within four to six weeks.
But the challenge, said Doubrava, remains in expanding the benefits that the participants are going to receive. “We have to have a program that permits business aviation re-entry into the nation’s airspace in the event of another shutdown, irrespective of what that shutdown might be caused by or what occurs,” he suggested. “There probably will be some incident in the future that will result in the closure of part or all of the nation’s airspace.”
He acknowledged that the TSA and the FAA will work first to get the nation’s airlines back up and running, followed by other regulated operators such as those under the Twelve-Five Standard Security Program. That would leave business aviation without any tool to reenter that airspace. “We believe that TSAAC would be a recognized security program that would permit operators back into the airspace that we have to [be able to access],” Doubrava said.
Another consideration is in the realm of international operations, where NBAA is now getting reports of certain foreign governments challenging U.S. business aircraft operators to give them some evidence that they have a recognized security program in place to be able to operate out of the U.S. into those locations.
“We believe that TSAAC would offer that,” he said. With the TSAAC process recognized by the TSA, it would be a way to reaffirm they have an operative security program in place that foreign governments can recognize.
“Don told the [TSA] Administrator last week that this is vital,” Doubrava told AIN. “There has to be some recognition process by which foreign governments can look at the security programs of our operators and recognize them as valid. TSAAC would do that.” He opined the TSA needs that for credibility and NBAA operators need it to survive as foreign governments begin to exert pressure in that area.
Finally, secure access must provide access to and through the TFRs and restricted airports such as DCA, using TSAAC guidelines to give qualified GA operators the same opportunities as the airlines.
“Those three are the big hallmarks of secure access,” said Doubrava, “and why we think that expansion of the TSAAC program and recognition of the TSAAC program by the FAA [is needed to] recognize voluntary participants in the program.”
According to Doubrava, the TSA does not believe there is a need to regulate general aviation, and “obviously we strongly support that. But number two, we also understand that at the end of the day there has to be some type of regulatory recognition of a security program that has credibility.”
Participation would be strictly voluntary, although everyone would have equal access to the program. Individual operators would decide whether that access is important to them in terms of the dedication of resources it would take to operate within that recognized regime.
While the TSA is–in its own words–“struggling” internally to determine what benefits it can design as part of the TSAAC program, Doubrava is confident that it will be expanded.
High Level of Interest
Currently, 24 operators at the three TSAAC airports have been vetted by the TSA for the initial program, which was frozen in December. In addition, NBAA has conducted 24 security protocol training seminars at strategic locations around the country to support TSAAC and provide a voluntary benchmark for business aviation security. Included were 500 individuals representing more than 250 companies.
“That shows there is a high level of interest out there,” said Doubrava. “When you have that kind of interest for a program that’s basically voluntary and there is no assurance that there will be any benefit beyond just what’s out there right now, I think that’s indicative of the business aviation community’s support for [establishing] a robust baseline for business aviation security.”
Doubrava and NBAA are convinced that an expanded TSAAC will prove beneficial even to those operators who do not operate internationally or have no need to fly to DCA.
“Obviously, the biggest TFR of all is Reagan,” he noted. “But more important, we think the benefit for all members is the access to the airspace. Strategically, you have got to look at those issues, because without access to airspace our business goes away.”
Doubrava came to NBAA from a federal lobbying and government relations firm, but before that he was managing director of security for the Air Transport Association (ATA).
He said the security process for corporate aviation “is not that much different” from that of the airlines, but the scope is different. “You have the important issues of the operators and what they need to survive and protect their businesses,” he added.
Although most of its resources are aimed at commercial aviation, Doubrava believes that the TSA is making a good-faith effort to work with the general aviation community, and NBAA in particular. “The problem is there’s not a lot left over for us,” he concluded.