U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has launched a pilot project in cooperation with Signature Flight Support at Anchorage, Alaska, and Shannon, Ireland, to scan general aviation aircraft for potential nuclear hazards as they enter the U.S.
The program is a proof-of-concept, public/private-sector partnership that will allow FBOs to check passenger and crew identification against manifests or through CBP’s electronic Advance Passenger Information System for positive identification of passengers and crew on board GA aircraft.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which is working in close coordination with Signature, believes that this initiative will provide additional security for flights inbound to the U.S. The TSA and CBP are part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
“We are encouraged by the public/private-sector partnership to improve security and believe that the broader application of such programs will provide robust security while maintaining operational flexibility for general aviation operators,” the TSA said.
According to Rob Heckman, AOPA senior director of regulatory affairs, DHS officials are not singling out GA, and the initiative is part of a transportation-wide effort to secure the nation’s borders.
CBP already scans for radiation more than 90 percent of cargo containers, as well as a percentage of ships, trucks and cars entering the country. The agency’s goal is to scan 100 percent of all incoming goods, people and vehicles.
The general aviation screening program for international arrivals took effect on December 30. It uses equipment that can detect the specific type of radiation being emitted, reducing the number of false alarms caused by normally occurring radiation.
The program is known as the Secure Fixed Base Operator Program. CBP said arriving aircraft will be asked to shut down their engines, auxiliary power units and certain avionics. Officers can then scan the inside and outside of the aircraft. Passengers and crew may be asked to disembark during the scan. The entire procedure should take between five and 15 minutes and is not expected to cause arrival delays.
When DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff spoke at a meeting of the National Air Transportation Association Aviation Business Roundtable in November, he said that GA’s “increasing importance requires us to spend a little more time than we may have previously in terms of elevating and test flying our ability to defend and reduce vulnerabilities in general aviation.”
Initially, the DHS’s focus is on aircraft traveling internationally. “The nightmare scenario that we talk about,” said Chertoff, “is the possibility of a weapon of mass destruction, in particular a nuclear bomb or a radiological bomb, being detonated in a city.”
In another security development, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation in December that would establish a pilot program at which seven airports across the country would experiment with different methods for screening 100 percent of all airport employees. The Senate has not yet scheduled a vote on the bill.
The pilot program describes several scenarios for screening employees to test which methods are most effective. Under H.R.1413, at least one airport will screen employees with the assistance of a private screening company. At least one of the airports will be required to establish a dedicated lane to screen all employees in the same manner as passengers. And at least one will have the option of implementing alternative programs, such as biometric technology, behavior recognition programs and the use of dogs.
The National Air Transportation Association (NATA) is concerned that the bill could open the door to a 100-percent employee screening mandate from Congress, claiming it would dramatically slow the flow of commerce at the nation’s airports and subject airport ground service providers to untenable costs.
The association argued that it is not feasible to screen all employees in the same manner as airline passengers. A more reasonable approach, it said, would be a combination of targeted and random inspections on the airport property to ensure that airport employees have the proper credentials and are cleared for access to the secure area of an airport.
The program will last for 180 days, after which the TSA will report to Congress on the results. The report will include items such as the effects of increased screening on terminal congestion, average wait times for both passengers and employees, lost productivity and success rates for detecting prohibited items. A report is due to Congress within 90 days of the program’s completion.
Meanwhile, BAE Systems received a $29 million contract from the DHS to test an infrared aircraft missile defense system on passenger aircraft. The tests will evaluate the system’s compatibility with daily passenger airline operations and maintenance.
As part of the DHS counter-man-portable air defense system (Manpads) program, BAE will install its Jeteye aircraft missile defense system on as many as three American Airlines aircraft. The airline will evaluate the system’s compatibility with daily passenger airline operations and maintenance, although the system will not be tested on flights carrying passengers.