Washington Report: Blakey reminds GA of security needs

 - May 9, 2008, 7:24 AM

While promising to be “balanced and reasonable,” FAA Administrator Marion Blakey told those attending the recent AOPA Expo that the nation and her agency are caught between two imperatives–national security and preventing terrorists from using aviation for mass murder.

Blakey said former FAA Administrator Jane Garvey “gave you the straight story” the last time she spoke to AOPA Expo attendees when she said, “General aviation provides the least managed and potentially largest fleet of weapons in the United States.”

But at the same time, Blakey said, “We must recognize that beyond the immediate targets of death and destruction, the ultimate goal of terrorism is not just to kill us, but to degrade our economic vitality and personal freedoms. We cannot let terrorists convert aviation into a means for mass murder. But we also cannot let them make us grounded prisoners in our own country.”

Alluding to confusion over which agency makes security decisions, Blakey explained that the FAA remains the manager of the National Airspace System (NAS) and still retains some security responsibilities, such as certifying the design and overseeing the implementation of reinforced cockpit doors and flight-crew training.

Security is properly the business of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), she said, which works with other intelligence, defense and national security agencies. The FAA remains in the loop with a strong policy voice and as the implementer and enforcer of many TSA policies, she added.

Blakey admitted that such a system is necessarily complex. “It might even be bureaucratically cumbersome were it not for one thing–and that is the wartime sense of responsibility among all players,” she said. “Our work comes together through a lot of coordination at all levels and through a Joint Security Operations Center, staffed 24/7 by both FAA and TSA specialists.”

While the FAA’s role continues to be that of an advocate for commerce and the economic benefits of aviation, Blakey said, “We will never overlook an opportunity to remind our colleagues in the security agencies of the importance of general aviation.”

She further acknowledged that many restrictions have to remain in place as long as the current threats continue, citing CIA Director George Tenet’s warning about a “disturbing pattern” of heightened activity among terrorists. “That’s just a matter of common sense,” she said. “This is wartime, and national security cannot and will not be compromised. But we also have to be sensible.”

In a meeting with Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, whose department oversees the TSA, he stressed to her that a balance was needed between vigilance and reasonableness. “We are not going to expand TFRs on a widespread, ongoing basis where the threat is non-specific,” said Blakey.

Meanwhile, the FAA has partnered with Jeppesen to create an electronic graphical depiction of TFRs superimposed over aeronautical charts in a format clear and familiar to pilots and “down to the inch” accurate. She said the capability is being deployed to Flight Service Stations and will be available to the public early next year.

Blakey also promised AOPA that at the first public mention of a new airport closure or unwarranted restriction on approach speed or noise abatement, the FAA will review the situation and remind local officials of their obligations. “The law bans discrimination against any category of operator at airports accepting federal funds–and we are determined to stand by it,” she said.

“With all the necessary restrictions in the air, the last thing we need are unnecessary constraints on the ground,” said Blakey. “The FAA has been very aggressive in holding local airport authorities to their grant agreements.”