TSA progress slow on NBAA’s security program

 - December 17, 2007, 11:09 AM

The head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has said that he fully supports NBAA’s Transportation Security Administration Access Certificate (TSAAC) initiative, but the business aviation association remains frustrated by the TSA’s lack of progress in expanding the effort to increase the benefits of the TSAAC initiative.

Both NBAA president Ed Bolen and board chairman Donald Baldwin told AIN in interviews before the NBAA Convention last month that they are concerned about the glacial pace of the TSAAC program within the TSA.

Bolen acknowledged that TSAAC is “a good beginning” for business aviation to gain the same access to airspace and airports that the airlines enjoy, but he conceded that NBAA is uncertain that it has received broad enough cooperation from the security sector. And Baldwin agreed that NBAA is troubled that the TSA has not broadened the TSAAC program and, more important, added real substance to it.

At the NBAA Convention in Las Vegas, Rear Admiral David Stone, assistant secretary of homeland security for the TSA, assured delegates that the TSA supports the TSAAC program as a means of facilitating business aviation access to airports and airspace. At press time, however, possession of a TSAAC only allows the operator to fly internationally without a waiver for each trip. Baldwin, in particular, cited the need to add further benefits for TSAAC holders amidst reports that foreign authorities are beginning to look at what kind of security programs business aviation is using in the U.S. If a TSAAC becomes an entrée into airline territory, it should be sufficient to assuage security concerns in other nations.

According to NBAA, participants in a panel discussion on security issues at the convention agreed that corporate operators are making progress toward the goal of having the same access to airspace and airports as scheduled airlines.

Improving Access for Business Aviation
Doug Schwartz, chairman of NBAA’s security council, noted that the association has conducted 26 security-training sessions that have educated more than 500 people on industry best practices. In addition, approximately two dozen operators are participating in trial TSAAC programs at Teterboro and Morristown Airports in New Jersey and Westchester County Airport in New York.

On the downside, the FAA had issued more than 400 TFRs between 9/11 and last month’s NBAA Convention. While the number of TFRs has been greater this year than in the previous two years because of the election, the national political conventions and frequent travel by President Bush and Vice President Cheney, some affected operators have begun to question the utility of their aircraft because of the numerous and unpredictable operating restrictions. But Schwartz, who manages AT&T’s flight department, pointed out that the situation has been worse. Shortly after 9/11, TFRs used to pop up with virtually no notice. Through NBAA’s work with the TSA, he said, the TSA now gives up to four days’ notice on TFRs.

Said TSA’s Rob Rottman, “You don’t know how many TFRs we [TSA] have prevented.” The TSA’s deputy director for aviation security also contended that the agency is making progress on the planned implementation of the TSAAC program.

“It may seem as if TSAAC has ground to a halt, but we are trying to get our arms around [how to apply procedures for] 7,000 operators at 5,000 airports,” he said. Another challenge facing the TSA, he disclosed, is educating its field staff about corporate aircraft operations.

Rottman expressed optimism that corporate operators can expect results soon, saying that Stone assured him that the TSA will move forward on the TSAAC program. Rottman promised that the waiver process would be improved, as online forms replace the cumbersome fax and callback system.

Both Adam Tsao, a House aviation subcommittee staff member, and Pete West, NBAA’s senior v-p of government and public affairs (who is leaving the organization on November 1), urged NBAA members to get involved in educating legislators and promoting recognition and acceptance of business aviation.