At a hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee last month, representatives of general aviation organizations spelled out the measures GA has taken to improve security since 9/11.
Ed Bolen, president and CEO of NBAA, said that the significant security enhancements that GA has implemented have received less public attention than those affecting the airlines, leading some to question whether general aviation is less secure. He said the facts demonstrate how secure GA is.
The general aviation community has remained focused on the security of airspace and airports across the country, Bolen told the senators, citing the implementation of a program to report suspicious activity, support for a requirement for government-issued photo IDs for flight crews, and the development of new procedures for airport and hangar security. “These and other actions have reduced the vulnerability of general aviation aircraft to terrorist activity,” he added.
Bolen also referred to a security initiative NBAA has supported, called the Transportation Security Administration Access Certificate (TSAAC). The program includes new voluntary security procedures for personnel, facilities, aircraft and in-flight operations. Currently, TSAAC allows operators to fly internationally without a TSA waiver, and the alphabet groups have been urging the TSA to expand the privileges of certificate holders.
Broader implementation of TSAAC would improve security and could give vetted operators access to currently restricted airspace, such as TFRs. In May, the House Homeland Security subcommittee included in a spending bill language encouraging the TSA to move forward on the development of TSAAC.
Bolen concluded by observing that the coming years will require a continuing focus on security. “If there is one thing that I want to leave you with today,” he told the panel, “it is that we are committed to working with the government to implement reasonable and effective security programs.”
Improving GA Access
National Air Transportation Association (NATA) president Jim Coyne noted the successful participation of NATA members in the government-sponsored Twelve-Five Standard Sec- urity Program, which the TSA certified for aircraft weighing 12,500 pounds or more.
He also described the difficulties program participants face in getting proper recognition for complying with the program’s often expensive requirements. “These Twelve-Five operators have invested thousands of dollars and man hours to comply with security mandates and yet are treated exactly the same as operators without security programs,” he testified. “NATA believes that non-scheduled carriers in compliance with a TSA-approved security program should receive airspace and access benefits similar to those of the scheduled carriers.”
Coyne also detailed the struggles non-scheduled operators face when the government issues temporary flight restrictions around a particular area, which usually close to general aviation any airport in the range of the TFR.
He mentioned the success NATA has had in obtaining permission for cargo-only operators participating in the Twelve-Five program to take off and land in airspace restricted by a TFR, and he called on Congress to expand the policy to include passenger aircraft participating in the program as well.
Andy Cebula, AOPA senior v-p of government and technical affairs, insisted that government must take a risk-based approach to transportation security, concentrating resources in those areas where there is the greatest danger to the general public. He added that light GA aircraft are not a major threat.
Committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) agreed, saying, “There has to be some common sense in this.” But the ranking Democrat on the committee’s aviation subcommittee, Sen. Jay Rockefeller IV (W.Va.), referring to GA, said, “What I worry about are those 212,000 aircraft and 19,000 airports.”
“GA has gone through some pretty phenomenal changes since 9/11,” Cebula answered. “There has been a significant increase in awareness about security, about the need for pilots to be alert and vigilant. More than 80 percent of our members are aware of and participate in the Airport Watch program.”
Cebula pointed out that Congress’ own watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office, had concluded that “the small size, lack of fuel capacity and minimal destructive power of most general aviation aircraft make them unattractive to terrorists and, therefore, reduce the possibility of threat associated with their misuse.”
Meanwhile, following the announcement that the Department of Homeland Security planned to reopen Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to some limited, pre-screened GA aircraft operations, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) called the decision “misguided.”
Markey, a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, has introduced a comprehensive aviation security bill intended to close a number of security “loopholes.” The bill will include requiring security upgrades at small, general aviation airports; mandating 100-percent screening of all cargo on passenger aircraft within three years; and strengthened perimeter security measures at airports.