GA braces for more stringent security rules

 - September 2, 2008, 7:38 AM

With the end-of-summer political conventions set for Minneapolis and Denver, the FAA transferred the general aviation security program designed for access to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area to provide top cover for the Republican gathering.

No similar program was orchestrated for the Democratic National Convention (held August 25 to 28 in Denver) because, with a cutout for Centennial Airport, the applicable temporary flight restrictions were not expected to adversely affect GA flights at surrounding airports.

Meanwhile, a story in USA Today early last month reported that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was working on “a massive expansion” of general aviation security rules, which set the GA community on edge.

One proposal the agency announced months ago would require all operators of aircraft with an mtow of more than 12,500 pounds to comply with the TSA’s Twelve Five Standard Security Program, which now applies only to Part 135 commercial flights. A plan has been shuttling back and forth between the TSA and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for comment and concurrence.

For the GOP convention, holders of DCA Access Standard Security Program (DASSP) clearances were being permitted to operate through TFR areas around Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport from September 1 to 4. Only then-current DASSP operators, of which there were more than 200, were eligible.

The DASSP authorization meant that aircraft had to carry an armed security officer, screen crewmembers and passengers, depart from a gateway airport and meet all other conditions stipulated in the DASSP, which authorizes access to DCA via gateway airports. There was one change to the usual DASSP procedure: required security information had to be submitted 96 hours before departure from the gateway airports instead of the standard 24 hours.

The concern about the adequacy of general aviation security came to a head last November when Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff told the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) Aviation Business Roundtable in Washington, D.C., that homeland security experts were considering new measures to tighten security for GA operators.

To that end, the DHS released a fact sheet that explained the agency was working to strengthen GA security to “further minimize the vulnerability of GA and private aircraft flights being used to deliver illicit materials, transport dangerous individuals or employ the aircraft as a weapon.”

Late last year, the TSA crafted a set of proposals and sent them to the OMB for final review and approval before they were published as a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM). But the proposed rule met some resistance at the OMB, which sent dozens of pages of questions back to the TSA for clarification and revision. The security agency withdrew its original NPRM in January for further revision and resubmitted it to the OMB several months later.

Generally, the OMB is the final step before an NPRM is published. Now, however, there is a question whether there is enough time remaining in President Bush’s term for the agency to act.

Casting a Wider Net
The article in USA Today raised concerns in the GA community that new security regulations could severely restrict the convenience and utility of GA aircraft. NBAA v-p of communications Dan Hubbard told the newspaper that “new security proposals must be workable and should strike the right balance between the need for security and mobility.”

While AOPA acknowledged that the NPRM does not affect the overwhelming majority of general aviation aircraft or pilots, it said the 400,000-plus member association will oppose any regulations that unduly restrict general aviation with no significant security benefit.

“One of our major concerns is that this is the first time a new segment of the aviation population will be regulated,” said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive v-p of government affairs.

Eric Byer, NATA v-p of government and industry affairs, told the newspaper that new security rules “will be a little bit of an inconvenience” but might attract to private aviation some passengers who now are worried about private travel. “Having a program like this will make [private airplanes] even more secure,” he said.

General aviation groups cited their willingness to support “reasonable” security measures, and Hubbard pointed out that security has always been a top priority for GA. “Like other industries, the general aviation community–private business owners who fly, owners of aircraft charter firms and operators of general aviation terminals–have worked with federal officials in a collaborative and effective manner to strengthen post-9/11 safety and security,” he said.