Report: GA still poses a threat to U.S. security

 - September 30, 2008, 7:02 AM

Seven years after 9/11, general aviation is still vulnerable to acts of terrorism because of inaction by the White House, according to a report prepared by the Democratic staffs of the House Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs Committees.

Titled Wasted Lessons of 9/11: How the Bush Administration Has Ignored the Law and Squandered Its Opportunities to Make Our Country Safer, the report examines the administration’s performance on the requirements in H.R.1, “Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007,” which was signed into law on Aug. 3, 2007.

The 9/11 Commission’s recommendations directed the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to develop a standardized threat and vulnerability assessment program for GA airports by August 3 this year. But the TSA admitted to the House Committee on Homeland Security that it missed that deadline.

According to the agency, it is working with stakeholders, such as the National Association of State Aviation Officials and the National Air Transportation Association, to develop a survey to send to the GA community later this year. The TSA stated that the survey is a precursor to the overdue standardized threat and vulnerability assessment program.

The House report claims that the administration has made little, or no progress on 23 provisions, three of which involve aviation security. According to the 9/11 Commission, “major vulnerabilities still exist” in general aviation.

“The vulnerabilities present in the GA sector should have hit close to home,” according to the writers, in the fall of 1994, when a mentally ill person crashed a stolen single-engine aircraft on the South Lawn of the White House. It continues, “Four months after the attacks of September 11, 2001, a student pilot crashed a small single-engine aircraft into a skyscraper in downtown Tampa, Florida.”

The report states, “Concerns were also raised in October 2005, when a 22-year-old male stole a Cessna Citation VII from the St. Augustine, Florida airport.…These incidents highlight the evolving vulnerabilities that the TSA must address to assure that GA airports and aircraft are properly secured.”

Congress acknowledged the unique security challenges general aviation assets and infrastructure pose, and instituted the 9/11 Commission recommendation that required the TSA to adopt a risk-based approach to assess the threats and vulnerabilities of GA airports.

Key elements that could be tailored to a facility include surveillance and monitoring of airports and aircraft; vetting of pilots and airport workers; and proper controls for access to facilities and aircraft.

GA Highlights Security Changes
Responding to the report, NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen said, “Security remains a top priority for our industry. Unfortunately, this report didn’t mention the many effective steps we’ve taken to strengthen security in the years since 9/11.”
On the seventh anniversary of the attacks, AOPA president Phil Boyer noted, “GA is more secure” than it was before the attacks “because the pilot community has a vested interest in protecting aircraft and airports.”

Pilots’ investment in aviation is the foundation of AOPA’s “tremendously successful” Airport Watch Program, through which pilots secure their aircraft and watch for and report suspicious activity at their airports through a federal-government-operated toll-free hotline.

“The fact is that the government–the federal government or the state government–does not need to order people to protect assets when the people themselves place great value on the assets,” said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff during a speech early last month.

The National Safe Skies Alliance, a nonprofit membership consortium, is assisting the TSA in developing and distributing a standardized threat and vulnerability assessment for general aviation airports.