TSA issues airport security guidelines

 - October 3, 2007, 9:53 AM

General aviation received some good news and some not-so-good news last month with regard to airport security.

The good news is that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) released security guidelines for GA airports in the form of an information publication, containing no regulatory language or mandatory requirements. It is intended to provide GA airport owners, operators and users with guidelines and recommendations that address aviation security concepts, technology and enhancements.

The publication largely follows recommendations drafted by the general aviation airport security working group and submitted to the TSA last fall. The group was co-chaired by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) and the National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO).

Now the not-so-good news: efforts to return GA to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) met with much less success after a session between the General Aviation Coalition (GAC) and TSA acting Administrator David Stone. According to one participant, the TSA told the group it is unlikely that DCA will be reopened to any type of GA traffic anytime soon.

“Admiral Stone used a lot of phrases and language that led me to believe that it’s probably not going to happen this year,” said NASAO president Henry Ogrodzinski. He speculated, “Whoever is inaugurated in January would at least get waivers for some people during inauguration week.”

The meeting touched on a number of security issues, including nationwide temporary flight restrictions. NBAA interim president Don Baldwin noted that such restrictions on GA access decrease the flexibility of NBAA members to conduct business effectively and have an adverse economic effect on both the business aviation community and the U.S. economy.

One participant in the meeting quoted Stone as saying there is a draft of a plan to allow some GA operations back into DCA, “but it has to be vetted by a number of federal agencies.” Stone told the GAC that the proposal is working its way up the chain of command, but could be affected by upcoming national political conventions and the November Presidential election.

GA Still Waiting

Jim Coyne, president of the National Air Transportation Association, reminded Stone that two years ago Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said security officials wanted to wait until the Fourth of July holiday and the first anniversary of 9/11 passed before moving to reinstate GA activities at DCA. A “Code Orange” alert followed and since passed, and GA is still waiting. Coyne said that a certain date needs to be set for the return of GA operations at DCA.

AOPA raised the tandem issues of the air defense identification zone (ADIZ) around the Baltimore-Washington area and the dozen “permanent” TFRs established over military facilities in the aftermath of 9/11. AOPA senior vice president of government and technical affairs Andy Cebula said the ADIZ is smothering general aviation around the nation’s capital, while the military’s stated desire to turn some or all of the “permanent” TFRs into charted prohibited areas is cause for serious concern among GA pilots.

A portent of things to come, perhaps, were rolling TFRs that followed bus tours by President Bush early last month that covered several states. Although the motorcades included the usual 30-nm-radius restricted areas, they also involved a 10-nm-radius no-fly zone centered on the entourage, whether it was moving or stopped. AOPA cited reports that the Bush campaign was planning several more of these trips all across the country.

When the bus trips and rolling TFRs were announced, AOPA warned that the notam explaining the restrictions was likely to be so complex that pilots would have difficulty deciphering the exact times and locations. A participant in the GAC meeting with Stone said “it took experts hours to figure out what the TFR said,” and there were reports that some Flight Service Stations were not giving out the correct information.

The coalition urged Stone to have his agency get involved in internal government discussions about the creation and status of TFRs. The group asked for Stone’s help when he meets with his federal counterparts to make sure that TFRs are announced well in advance and in plain English so that people understand what they can and cannot do.

‘Administrative Convenience’

Meanwhile, Baldwin said in a message to NBAA members that behind the scenes, officials are whispering that all these TFRs have not really been established as an
impenetrable security screen, but as an “administrative convenience” for those officials to reduce to a more manageable level the number of flying “threats” they must detect and interdict.

“As TFRs rarely include AWACS coverage and loitering F-16s,” he wrote, “the government’s actual intent is to reduce to a reasonable level and cost the amount of effort necessary to manage ‘threats’ within TFRs, with acceptance that as a consequence of that strategy, well intentioned citizens must abandon their freedom to fly in many areas of the United States.”

Baldwin admitted it is unlikely that one-on-one lobbying alone will change the political priorities of government decision-makers on this issue. That has been tried without success. Several policy solutions have also failed to cause decision-makers to alter their thinking. “From my perspective, what is needed today is a sustained, broad and sophisticated campaign involving contributions from hundreds of people to change the political dynamic, and many people’s attitudes, on this issue,” he continued. “As part of that effort, we must find the resources, either through direct federal funding (possible, but unlikely given budgetary pressures) or through some sort of security fee–what some may well consider a new and ominous tax on business aviation–to pay to fix this.”

GA Airports Are Low Risk, TSA Says

In releasing the long-awaited GA airport security guidelines, the TSA seemingly indicated it does not think GA aviation airports pose much of a threat. It said the purpose of the information publication is to provide owners, operators, sponsors and other entities charged with oversight of GA airports a set of federally endorsed security enhancements and a method for determining when and where these enhancements may be appropriate.

Although the document does not contain regulations or mandates, the TSA said program requirements for operators regulated under the 12-5 and private charter rules remain in effect and might be incorporated into airport security procedures if appropriate. The TSA added that the material in the publication should be considered a living document that will be updated and modified as new security enhancements evolve and as industry provides input. To facilitate feedback, the TSA has established an e-mail address at General.Aviation@dhs.gov. The subject line should read “GA Airport Security.”

Best Practices

The GA airport security working group was established under the Aviation Security Advisory Committee (ASAC), which is sponsored by the TSA, to compile a list
of recommended security best practices used throughout the industry. The ASAC delivered its recommendations to the TSA last November after working on them for
six months. These recommendations form the framework for the information publication, and all of the ASAC recommendations were incorporated.

The guidelines offer an extensive list of options, ideas and suggestions for the airport operator, sponsor, tenant and user to choose from when considering security enhancements for GA facilities. This guidance will provide consistency across the nation with regard to security at GA facilities.

The publication also provides a method by which an airport operator can assess an airport’s security profile and decide which security improvements would be most appropriate for that location. The airport characteristics measurement tool is self-administered, and takes into account airport proximity to mass population areas (at least 100,000 people) or sensitive sites, number of based aircraft, runway lengths and numbers and types of operations.

Ed Bolen, president and CEO of GAMA, said the release of the document reflects