New security regs take shape

 - March 26, 2008, 12:01 PM

Under the first major rulemaking of the DOT’s newly created Transportation Security Administration, scheduled for publication February 22, charter operations in Part 25 aircraft face a slew of new security regulations when passengers or crew are enplaning or deplaning in an airport’s “sterile” area (generally, the airline ramp or terminal and its gates).

The most daunting of the requirements include employee background checks that require a fingerprint-based criminal history record check of “pilots, flight
engineers or flight navigators.” (Apparently flight attendants are exempted.) Affected operators have until December 6 to comply with the fingerprint rule.
Although the new rules do not require reinforced cockpit doors, they do extend to air-taxi aircraft the same restricted flight deck access rules that currently apply to Part 121 operations.

Elsewhere on the security front, NBAA continues aggressively to pursue access to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) for business aviation interests, and non-commercial aviation security continues to present a mixed and ever-changing bag for users.

At press time, the FAA was still perusing a generic model of NBAA’s proposal for a “security letter of authorization” (SLOA) that would be issued to “qualified general aviation operations.” The SLOA concept would allow such operators to fly in the National Airspace System (NAS) during periods of increased security ordered by the federal government.

NBAA hopes that, in addition to giving GA the same access to the NAS as Part 121 commercial operations, the SLOA plan would reopen DCA to business aviation. Although the approval process is taking longer than originally estimated, NBAA president Jack Olcott told a group of operators and other interested parties early last month that the SLOA has received “favorable feedback.”

Olcott said NBAA has heard from the FAA that the SLOA proposal “has legs” and has been reviewed by the FAA and other security entities in Washington. “We are encouraged that this security letter of authorization has all of the technical elements necessary to gain access into National,” he added.

NBAA originally sent its proposal to FAA Administrator Jane Garvey on December 20, and since then the idea has undergone further revisions and refinements. The association held a first briefing at DCA in January, when it outlined an ambitious schedule that would have reopened the airport to business aviation users by March 1.

But that timeline was quickly chilled by Rear Adm. Paul Busick (Ret.), FAA associate administrator for civil aviation security. While he liked the idea and promised to work to gain approval, he cautioned there are many other agencies that must weigh in before it can be put in place.

NBAA has submitted a technical model of how the SLOA process would work, along with two specific SLOA applications. According to Olcott, the FAA is looking at the model from a generic point of view, and then will have examples of how the model would work with two specific applications.

But he warned that even though the regulatory solution and technical elements are in place, the issue is political. “Without a political push, without an incentive from the highest levels of government to open this airport for general aviation,” he said, “we will have a very difficult time.”

Olcott called on those in attendance to work together “to have a strong political statement” at the highest levels of government, and it listed examples of those levels as President Bush, Vice President Cheney, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card [a former Transportation Secretary under Bush’s father], National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, DOT Secretary Norman Mineta and Commerce Secretary Donald Evans. He said  NBAA has begun the process with member companies’ Washington offices and has received “fairly good response.”

Emphasizing that it was an effort of all of the aviation associations in Washington and the entire GA community, “both the upper end and the broader segment of general aviation,” Olcott said, “we want to have success for all of us.”

Busick said the FAA is working across the spectrum of general aviation throughout the country to “understand the new dimensions of security” as it applies to that segment of the aviation population. He called that viewpoint a “significant departure” from the kind of security  the FAA civil aviation security branch had thought about in the past, which centered mostly on airlines and air-carrier airports.

New Ground
“So this is really a lot of new ground for us and for the larger policy community within Washington,” Busick admitted. “We do very much want to allow Part 91 general aviation operations back into DCA–as probably the first step–and then see where we can go from there.”

Confidence-building steps are clearly going to be important in that regard, he said, and he pointed to efforts then under way to reopen three small GA airports inside the 15-nm Washington TFR on a “very limited scope.”

In what could only be perceived as a positive sign, one week later Bush approved the FAA’s Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) that will reopen an existing VFR corridor in the Baltimore/Washington Class B airspace and put in motion procedures that will allow previously based operators to fly at three suburban Maryland airports–College Park (CGS), Potomac Airfield (VKX) and Washington Executive/Hyde Field (W32).

With Bush’s sign-off, the FAA still had to complete some “minor interagency coordination” before it could issue the actual SFAR-95 and Notams that will reopen the VFR corridor to all pilots and the three airports to based pilots. To fly into and out of the three Washington-area airports, pilots had to submit to being fingerprinted and undergo Secret Service background checks. Operators were then to be individually briefed on flight procedures and receive personal identification numbers (PINS) for use when filing flight plans.

In addition to SFAR-95, the FAA will publish a related Notam informing pilots of the new rules and airspace boundaries, which now consist of a 15-nm circle centered on the DCA VOR, with cutouts for Freeway Airport (W00) to the east and the VFR corridor between DCA and Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD).

While the limited opening of those three airports may portend some good news for GA for a change, on Capitol Hill Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) created a stir among GA interests when he declared during a Senate transportation appropriations subcommittee hearing last month that security is minimal or nonexistent at some GA airports.

Kohl, who frequently flies in chartered aircraft, said there is a lack of oversight for the “security of chartered aircraft and general aviation.” Calling GA a “ticking time bomb,” he said the government also needs a plan for larger GA aircraft, similar to rules that are applied to commercial aircraft.

John Magaw, head of the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA), agreed that some GA airports are wide open, citing the case of the 15-year-old who crashed a Cessna 172 into a building in Tampa, Fla. He said it will take the TSA a couple of months to complete the worked needed on GA security, and he added that a search is on for “someone who knows the GA culture.”

Since September 11, Kohl has been a frequent critic of GA security. He unsuccessfully attempted to amend the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which created the TSA, to require the FAA to create a security program for aircraft weighing less than 12,500 lb.

As an agency within the Transportation Department, TSA has far-ranging power to improve GA security. It includes airspace and operational restrictions; intercept operations; scrutiny of pilots, crews, passengers and aircraft on the ground; and communication such as expanded use of Notams and partnering with industry associations.

There is also “significant authority” within the TSA for DOT Secretary Mineta to issue a security directive that would implement additional airport security restrictions, or use SFAR 91, which requires any operation in the sterile area of a Part 107 airport to undergo a search of the aircraft and a screening of passengers, crewmembers and other persons and their accessible property. A second part gives the FAA the authority to require screening procedures for operators of aircraft with a mtow greater than 12,500 lb.