When the national threat level was raised to code orange (high) on December 21, most people in general aviation took it in stride. With New Year’s celebrations just days off, new TFRs were issued for New York City and Las Vegas, followed by one for downtown Chicago, and waivers were suspended for sports stadium overflights and the Washington, D.C. air defense identification zone.
But what caused general aviation to get worked up was a CBS News feature on January 14 that painted small general aviation airports as avenues of access for terrorists. NBAA sent out advance notice to members pointing out that the TV network did not contact any general aviation trade association while it was putting the report together.
NBAA contacted reporter Bob Orr, who claimed the piece was targeted primarily at the security of recreational aircraft owners and pilots. “Business aviation does not appear to be directly addressed,” NBAA said. But it expressed “dismay that a respected news organization such as CBS would perpetuate misinformation and sensationalism about general aviation security.”
Orr told NBAA that the purpose of the story was to chide the government for not creating mandatory security programs for general aviation despite numerous voluntary security programs already in effect. NBAA urged members to send comments to CBS.
National Air Transportation Association (NATA) president James Coyne called the CBS Evening News segment “irresponsible journalism” and said the network has done itself and all of general aviation a huge disservice by airing the report and not bothering to check the facts.
“Even a cursory check with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)–the government agency charged with aviation security–would have revealed to the CBS reporter that NATA and all of the general aviation industry have been working with the TSA over the past year to formulate general aviation airport security guidelines,” Coyne said. “These guidelines were submitted to the TSA last fall, and the TSA is now in the process of refining them and distributing them to the industry.”
AOPA president Phil Boyer sent a letter to the president of CBS News complaining about the “slanted, incomplete, factually erroneous and salaciously inflammatory” story on general aviation airport security.
“Your irresponsible reporting techniques included failure to mention a wide range of security initiatives–developed by AOPA and other organizations in concert with the FAA and Department of Homeland Security–that are now in practice across the country,” Boyer wrote CBS news boss Andrew Heyward. Boyer said the “security expert” in the story was, in fact, a PR consultant with grief counseling experience with the NTSB. The other “expert” was a real estate agent, AOPA claimed.
The association noted that the “Eye on America” report profiled a residential airpark–the kind of close-knit community where any stranger would be observed and reported immediately. The report did not show a typical GA airport or mention security enhancements that have been put in place since 9/11, AOPA said.
Following the hike in the security threat level on December 21, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued “aviation emergency amendments” to improve security to passenger and cargo aircraft flying to, from and over the U.S. The DHS requested that international airlines, where necessary, place trained government law-enforcement officers on designated flights as an added protective measure. That did not sit well with some foreign governments, and discussions are continuing.
On January 9 DHS Secretary Tom Ridge announced that the national threat level was being lowered to code yellow (elevated), which he said was based on a careful review of the available intelligence. But he promised that particular vigilance will be maintained around some critical resources and locales.