TSA develops GA airport risk-assessment tool

 - October 2, 2007, 11:15 AM

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA)–with the assistance of the general aviation industry–is developing a Transportation Risk Assessment and Vulnerability Evaluation Tool that will allow general aviation airport operators to assess the vulnerability to terrorism of their individual facilities and respond accordingly.

TSA Administrator David Stone told Congress in late August that the tool focuses on the character-istics of each general aviation airport and provides an inventory of countermeasures.

“Initially, the tool will be made available to approximately 5,600 public-use general aviation facilities across the country,” he testified before the House aviation subcommittee. “The TSA will capture the input from these self-assessments and plot the data on the criticality matrix assessment.” A trial set of airports will test the tool before its official rollout.

The threat assessment tool is, in fact, an outgrowth of the “Security Guidelines for General Aviation Airports,” which the TSA developed in cooperation with general aviation organizations and released in May. That document also contained an Airport Characteristics Measurement Tool, which helps airport operators to assess risk and apply TSA-recommended mitigation measures.

The security guidelines were recommended by a general aviation airport security working group co- chaired by Henry Ogrodzinski, president and CEO of the National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO), and Ron Swanda of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA).

Ogrodzinski told AIN that the group is cooperating with the TSA on the Transportation Risk Assessment and Vulnerability Evaluation Tool, but participants had to sign non-disclosure agreements. He expected the tool to be released to NASAO members at their September 20 to 21 meeting. “At that point we can talk a lot more,” he said.

There have been at least two versions of the assessment and evaluation tool, and Ogrodzinski sub- mitted written comments on the second iteration. He described the TSA effort thus far as “common sense, no nonsense” material with no Draconian measures that anyone needs to fear.

“I believe it will be very helpful to airport operators,” said Ogrodzinski. “It will provide airport operators with a list of items [for providing] a better sense of how vulnerable to attempted terrorism that facility might be.”

He said further that the risk assessment and evaluation tool contains very specific questions and offers a considerable number of potential security enhancements.
Stone told Congress that the TSA has conducted many security site visits and vulnerability assessments. Partnering with industry groups and operators, he said, the TSA has developed security best practices to mitigate risk at maintenance, repair, overhaul and storage facilities for larger aircraft.

Implementing Best Practices
Among the best practices he cited for lawmakers is the Transportation Security Assured Access Program being developed in collaboration with NBAA. NBAA members based at New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport first tested the set of security procedures; the trial then expanded to include corporate aircraft operators based at Morristown Municipal Airport in New Jersey and Westchester County Airport in White Plains, N.Y.

Stone informed the aviation subcommittee members that operators who put those procedures in place and are approved by NBAA to apply for a TSA Access Certificate (TSAAC) are then authorized to operate internationally without a waiver. Ultimately, NBAA wants the TSA to grant certificate holders the same access to airspace and airports as airlines.

The TSA has also issued security directives to operators of New York City air-tour helicopters and the heliports that support their operations to address current intelligence information and to mitigate the threat of airborne attack through access to air-tour helicopters.

The TSA chief said the agency has worked closely with stakeholder associations representing the helicopter community and local operators to craft measures that would provide the necessary level of security and avoid adverse effects on operators.
“The issuance of these directives highlights our ability to act immediately on information received by the agency and to work with those sectors of the aviation community that are not regulated by the TSA to provide a threat-based, risk-managed approach to securing our transportation systems,” Stone said in prepared testimony.

The House aviation subcommittee convened the hearing to review and discuss the 9/11 Commission Report, in which only three of 41 recommendations specifically addressed aviation security.

There is, however, a 9/11 commission staff report that includes about 70 additional transportation security-related recommendations, and, at the time of the hearing, the Bush Administration was reviewing that report. Commission member John Lehman assured the congressional panel that it would receive a copy shortly. “We looked at aviation security not just as a defense but as a significant offense,” he said. “I think you will be pleased with it.”

Notwithstanding, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), whose district includes Fort Worth’s Alliance Airport, declared that general aviation and air cargo represent a threat, although he conceded that Alliance has never had a security breach. And he acknowledged that the costs for airline-type security would be high for the airport’s 9,600-foot runway. “We need to ensure that best practices are in place,” he added.

Subcommittee members overwhelmingly called for collaboration among federal agencies and for risk-based strategic plans for protecting aviation assets. “I’m fed up with this pigeon-kicking, turf-protecting,” groused longtime aviation advocate Rep. James Oberstar (D- Minn.), ranking member of the full House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “Let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”