TSA’s Morgan discusses large-aircraft NPRM

 - October 30, 2008, 6:49 AM

With official publication of the Transportation Security Administration’s notice of proposed rulemaking on its Large Aircraft Security Program slated for today, Michal Morgan, general manager of the agency’s general aviation branch, said she is looking forward to receiving comments and suggestions from the general aviation community.

In an interview last Friday, Morgan said that airplanes weighing more than 12,500 pounds have “significantly more capabilities” than smaller aircraft and that TSA is trying to mitigate the risk that nefarious individuals will use such airplanes as weapons or to carry illicit materials.

“They have greater ranges, greater fuel loads and payloads, typically are much more complex and have much more kinetic energy,” she told AIN. Despite the fact that many are flown by single pilots and pilot-owners, she contended that the 12,500-pound figure represents an operational-maintenance certification for aircraft and airmen in the U.S., the International Civil Aviation Organization and internationally as a weight threshold for the industry.

Would the TSA consider a higher threshold?

“We are looking forward to the industry feedback and comment, and we’ve actually asked for comment throughout the rulemaking, and most specifically on that particular issue,” Morgan said.

When asked how the TSA plans to police the use of aircraft from rural airports and/or unimproved landing strips, Morgan said that the agency will work with such programs as Airport Watch to address airports where there is “no federal presence” or those located in outlying areas.

“What we’ve managed to do with the industry is to adopt this standard where there is a watch type of activity where owners and operators report suspicious activity,” she said, citing the GA-Secure phone bank that is located in the TSA’s operations center.

She explained that the agency acts on all calls and responds to them. The agency has also been able to track suspicious activities and anomalies in the National Airspace System in concert with other federal agencies. “We also have made great improvements in monitoring who is requesting access to airspace and whether or not they are operating in current compliance with our requirements.”

How would a Part 91 operator be prevented from flying without meeting the Large Aircraft Security Program?

“The purpose of the proposal is not to prevent people from flying or operating their aircraft,” Morgan said. “It’s to require them to establish an appropriate level of security for that level of operation.” Thus far, there has been no proposal to annotate flight plans to indicate that the operator has complied with the LASP, she said.

“At the end of the day, we have statutory enforcement authority to enforce our regulations, including fines and withdrawing [operators’] security approval,” she added.

On the question of what is prohibited from being carried on a LASP aircraft, Morgan said the TSA is proposing to apply the prohibited items list (for Part 121) but specifically asked for comments on whether that should be limited to certain types of material or weapons. That list is already applicable for charter programs.

“I think it is important to remember that we have been deliberate in what we proposed and we worked hard with the community to understand the nature and flexibility of the current operations, what the current activities are in place with respect to security,” she continued. “Many of the associations have put forth security best practices for their members. We really tried hard to adopt those recommendations in this proposal and provide a common framework for security for this industry.”

According to Morgan, many aviation association members have already implemented “stellar security measures” in their locations. “We do work closely with industry to learn what is out there now and we look forward to their comments and get feedback on this proposal. We really do look forward to what they have to say.”