GA security slowly taken up a notch

 - January 8, 2008, 10:26 AM

Although general aviation access to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) continues to be an elusive and possibly unattainable goal, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) put its GA airport-watch hotline into effect at the beginning of last month and announced that it will test a security program for GA operators at Teterboro (N.J.) Airport (TEB) within the next few weeks.

The airport-watch program modeled after the Coast Guard-sponsored harbor watch was suggested by numerous GA groups so pilots can report suspicious activities at their airports to local police or FBI offices. On December 3 a toll-free number–(866) 427-3287–became operational. The hotline is funded and operated by the TSA, and calls are routed to the National Response Center in Washington.

According to AOPA, an automated answering system will confirm that the caller has reached the National Response Center. After a short telephone menu, an operator will pick up. The operator will want to know the name of the caller (although you may choose to remain anonymous), the telephone from which the call is being made and location. The caller will then be asked about the type of activity, and when and where it was observed. If the call involves suspicious people or vehicles, callers should be prepared to volunteer that information.

Meanwhile, AOPA created a training video, posters and pamphlets that provide examples of suspicious activities, outline steps aviators can take to help law-enforcement organizations and offer precautions operators can take to help improve airport security.

Last month NBAA reminded its members that keeping all aircraft doors closed and locked when the airplane is unattended is part of its “Best Practices for Business Aviation Security,” which is one of the fundamental elements of the “security protocol” on which the TSA test at Teterboro will be based. The association contacted several major aircraft manufacturers to determine if standard aircraft locks are an effective means to deter unauthorized access. The airframers agreed that the locks are indeed effective and tamper-resistant.

At an aviation security summit in Washington on December 9, Pam Hamilton, acting manager of the GA policy division of the TSA, said her agency will partner with NBAA on the pilot project at Teterboro Airport, which she described as a proof-of-concept to validate the NBAA-proposed “security protocol.”

The voluntary project for TEB-based Part 91 operators would lead to an access certification and a corporate waiver for certain kinds of operation. “What that really translates into is some additional levels of access,” said Hamilton. “We’re still working through the details with NBAA and the user community at Teterboro, but we are hoping to be able to launch that pilot project [this month]. We’re certainly enthusiastic about heading down that path.”

The NBAA security protocol is an outgrowth of what began almost a year ago as a security letter of authorization (SLOA) for qualified GA operations to regain access into DCA. That later became the Transportation Security Administration Access Protocol (TSAAP), which would allow vetted general aviation operators airline-like access to the NAS in the event of another national security incident.

Hamilton said the TSA has developed an “integrated GA strategy and work plan” for 2003 that includes a number of partnership projects with industry. “What we’re trying to do is to work with all of our stakeholders and to work with the states to develop the framework for appropriate federal security standards,” she said. “We also recognize that we’re not all going to agree on all the solutions, but we do know that we need to understand both the government and the industry perspective, and the implications of any of the alternatives that are being considered.”

TSA head James Loy has already met with the 16 associations that make up the General Aviation Coalition (GAC), and he plans to continue to meet with the GAC semi-annually. In between those sessions, the TSA’s senior leadership will meet with the steering committee of the coalition.

According to Hamilton, the TSA is also exploring a partnership with several associations to categorize public and private-use GA airports and develop best practices for each category of airport. “I think there’s an awful lot of interest in bringing the community together– both the industry and government sides–and trying to find some standard categories that we can all agree on,” she said, adding that it might be accomplished as an RTCA special committee in consultation with the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) and the National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO).