NBAA warns of coming GA security tidal wave

 - May 5, 2008, 5:30 AM

With general aviation access to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) in an indefinite holding pattern, NBAA has decided to re-target its monthly update meetings at the airport to encompass all of the security issues that business aviation faces or may face in the future.

NBAA president Jack Olcott told the gathering at Signature Flight Support’s facility at DCA last month that “we have heard, anecdotally, comments such as ‘If you’re concerned now, wait until we’–and you can imagine who ‘we’ is–‘really get around to dealing with general aviation.’”

NBAA senior vice president of operations Bob Blouin submitted that the general aviation community must become proactive and not wait around for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to take action, because “when they get to us, it is not going to be pretty.”

Taking a page from the U.S. Coast Guard’s harbor watch program, which new TSA chief James Loy instituted when he was commandant of the Coast Guard, Blouin called for an airport watch or aircraft watch. But he stressed that “we’re not asking people to spy on each other.”

Rather, people would be asked to look out for their own area and their own aircraft, whether it is at an FBO or at its home base. That would raise the level of awareness at even the smallest, unfenced airports that are without a TSA-appointed federal security director or TSA personnel available. Instead, there would be a toll-free telephone number or a local police number to call if something was believed to be amiss.

At a meeting between federal officials and five GA organizations in mid-July, Loy said he wanted to have greater involvement with general aviation, and he suggested that a GA working group be formed to work with government security experts to accelerate GA security access procedures. Olcott said he is encouraged by Loy’s commitment to develop dialogue with all factions of GA.

Meanwhile, the new focus of the NBAA monthly updates at Signature DCA will shift to an overall review of security issues facing business aviation, including the 95,000-lb rule, temporary flight restrictions (TFRs), NBAA’s proposed Transportation Security Administration Access Protocol (TSAAP) and the “12-5” security rule.
But Olcott vowed that NBAA would continue to keep the spotlight on Washington National and on the overall security of business aviation, “working with our colleagues at NATA, GAMA, AOPA and EAA.”

The 95,000-lb rule requires that operators of aircraft with an mtow of 95,000 lb or more conduct pre-boarding screening of passengers and property. In comments submitted to the TSA, NBAA has requested an exemption for Part 125 operators, and has asked that the weight be raised to 100,000 lb to exclude the Bombardier Global Express from the requirement. Olcott said the compliance for this rule has been extended to December.

NBAA’s concern with TFRs involves how they are determined and how the information about TFRs is transmitted to airspace users, said Olcott, who called for more dialogue between the community and TSA “to make sure that the TFRs are reasonable.” He added, “We are concerned about the ad hoc nature of these TFRs, which are highly disruptive.”

The TSAAP proposal grew out of NBAA’s original security letter of authorization (SLOA) proposal, and calls for vetting flight departments or any operator who wants to have the same access afforded the scheduled airlines. Although it would probably require having a security plan in place and demonstrating security procedures, the concept would grant the same access to TFRs that the airlines have.

“When a notam comes out,” Olcott explained, “it would say this notam applies to everyone except the airlines and holders of a TSAAP.” While NBAA is engaged in an ongoing dialogue with the TSA and the Transportation Department with respect to the TSAAP, he admitted that progress is slow.

The “12-5” rule is a proposed security program for Part 135 operators with aircraft weighing 12,500 lb (mtow) or more, and Olcott said there is a very limited amount of information that NBAA could convey because the proposal itself is considered unclassified but sensitive. To comment on the rule, an operator had to be qualified to receive the restricted information package. “If you weren’t considered an active Part 135 operator, you had difficulty getting the package,” Olcott told attendees.

NBAA estimated that the information packages on the “12-5” rule have gone out to only about half of the Part 135 operators who would be required to comply. Opining that the TSA is challenged by lack of personnel, budget problems and deadlines oriented toward the airlines, Olcott said, “Frankly, I’m concerned that they might not have a lot of energy, time or resources to deal with a broad community like us at present.”

While the “12-5” rule was to have become effective on September 19, NBAA and others have requested an extension of the comment period, which might delay the implementation deadline to later this year.