Time To Play The Boss Card

 - January 27, 2009, 5:51 AM

When the 767s hit the towers on 9/11, we all knew the aviation world would never be the same, quite apart from the implications for wider humanity. Sure enough, seven years later, business aviation finds itself staring down the barrel of a gun wielded by what some participants in the land of the free regard as an evolving police state.

If the TSA’s Large Airplane Security Program (LASP) becomes law, there will be no such thing as a private flight in any airplane weighing more than 12,500 pounds. Everything else down to Piper Cubs will succumb later, some speculate.

Think about that for a while. No such thing as a private flight, in the land of the free. More than two centuries ago Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Experience hath shewn that, even under the best forms of government, those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.”

The TSA went through the motions of democracy last month by holding town-hall meetings in five cities across the U.S. for concerned citizens to have their say. LASP is this infant agency’s first exposure to the NPRM process, and it got an earful from business aviation people, who turned out in strength to air grievances with what they see as a misguided, draconian, unworkable regulation that will do nothing to fulfill its alleged mission to make Americans safer.

The TSA people told the audience they needed hard numbers and facts, not emotions and feelings, to support our objections, and yet the agency declines to share any information to back its assertion that business aviation poses a threat to national security. Has anything actually changed since then-TSA chief Adm. James Loy conceded in 2003 that security officials after 9/11 had suggested the threat posed by GA was much greater than it actually is? Or is this, as many regard it, simply a massive bureaucracy flexing unchecked power over a people it thinks it has cowed with seven years of fear-mongering?

At the first meeting, held at New York’s Westchester County Airport, the 50 or so speakers were polite, respectful and unanimous in their message: Drop LASP. It’s imposed far too low on the takeoff-weight scale, invasive, probably unconstitutional and offers no real improvement in keeping Americans safe. At the Atlanta meeting, attorney and pilot Alan Armstrong noted that the 12,500-pound weight threshold “appears to be arbitrary and capricious.

The consequence is that the proposed rule, if adopted, may be stricken as unconstitutional by a court of appropriate jurisdiction as a violation of substantive due process in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

Some participants later muttered that the lineup of TSA workers on the stage consisted of low-level operatives who appeared to know precious little about business aviation, let alone the havoc their rules would unleash on an industry.

If LASP is politics, it needs to be treated as such. Its political extent depends on how much one subscribes to theories of skulduggery in D.C. Some say, logically enough with user fees as a backdrop, that the airlines’ fingerprints are all over the LASP as a new avenue of attack on business aviation.

If LASP is politics, the couple of thousand comments from pilots and owners in the docket is a good start (you have until February 27 to comment on the NPRM), but the big guns are the high-powered, politically connected people who ride in the back of business jets to swiftly complete their appointed rounds with an efficiency that is impossible by any other means. Surely these people see value in spending a little political capital to avert the absurdity that is LASP? Impress upon them that time has about run out and they need to attend to this now.

Pilots tend to avoid burdening the boss with the flight department’s bumps in the road for fear of appearing inadequate, but if you have a good working relationship with the boss this is no time to shy away from enlisting his or her support. LASP would be about as effective at making Americans safer as gun control has been at eliminating gun violence. Even if bad guys played by the rules, and they don’t, nothing in LASP would prevent a determined attack. It would be a laughable proposal were it not so burdensome and established in the lawmaking process.

An Aviation Rulemaking Committee, as proposed by NBAA, is the way to proceed.