Industry questions TSA ‘playbook’ after unauthorized screening at BNA

 - February 27, 2009, 10:24 AM

Now that the former Washington, D.C. air defense identification zone–renamed the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area Special Flight Rules Area–has become permanent, general aviation can turn its eyes to other security actions.

Both NBAA and AOPA have received reports from members about the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) stopping and screening general aviation pilots and their passengers at an FBO at Nashville International Airport (BNA) before they could access their airplanes.

NBAA was first made aware of the TSA’s heightened focus on general aviation after a tenants briefing at Bradley International Airport (BDL) in Connecticut. According to the association, a TSA official indicated that due to a newly released document from TSA headquarters, entitled the “playbook,” local TSA officers would be conducting random screening at FBOs and hangars.

But after NBAA raised the issue with TSA headquarters, local TSA officials decided not to implement the proposed measures for FBOs and tenants at BDL. Doug Carr, NBAA vice president of safety, security and regulation, said, “Because of timely member calls to our offices, we were able to intervene directly with TSA very early in the process and hopefully prevent more occurrences of this type of unauthorized screening.”

AOPA said that the Nashville incident, combined with recent changes to security badge requirements at commercial airports and the TSA’s proposed Large Aircraft Security Program, has left many pilots wondering if this is an all-out assault on GA by the TSA.

AOPA also said the screening episode at BNA stemmed from the so-called “playbook,” which it described as a restricted document designed to assist federal security directors in adding randomness and unpredictability to their security procedures.
The problem resulted when the security directors incorrectly applied the procedures, which were intended for commercial operations, to the GA side of the airport. The TSA is in the process of correcting the guidance that was distributed to federal security directors throughout the country.

“It is important that pilots let us know when they see these types of occurrence because we can take their concerns directly to the TSA,” said Craig Spence, AOPA vice president of security. “In this case, TSA officials had not intended for their policy to be interpreted this way, and when we told them about it, they quickly corrected the problem.”

NBAA also confirmed with the TSA that this type of screening was inappropriate and should not have happened, and that the local TSA officials were acting beyond the guidance provided by headquarters.

“Until the TSA finalizes its revision to the playbook,” said Carr, “I ask all of you to please let NBAA know if you hear of or witness any type of random TSA screening at FBOs or private hangars.”

Security Directive Questioned
Meanwhile, a security directive (SD) issued by the TSA that would require background checks and security badges for more pilots based at airports served by airlines has come under fire from AOPA.

Pilots who are based at airline airports and have not already had a background check and received an ID badge would have to do so this year to continue to have access to their airport. Based pilots who have already submitted to the checks would not be affected.

The directive does not change the requirements for transient pilots. Transient pilots flying into airline airports would continue to be subject to the current escorting and monitoring requirements.

In a letter to the TSA, AOPA expressed concern about the impact on GA pilots and aircraft owners that operate at TSA-regulated airports. The association said that information from a number of TSA-regulated airports makes it clear that compliance with this SD will necessitate the badging and performance of a security threat assessment on tens of thousands of GA pilots who operate from these airports.

The association requested that the TSA re-evaluate the SD and allow the GA industry to work with the security agency to develop “acceptable alternatives” that will not impose “unreasonable burdens” on airports or general aviation pilots.

“While the TSA consulted with representatives from the airport industry prior to issuing the SD, no one from the general aviation community was contacted,” said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs. “This is unfortunate because we could have provided important insight into the effects of such action.”

According to AOPA, the TSA is preventing it from reviewing the entire SD, but information from airport managers indicates that it is inconsistent with other security requirements.

“Pilots have long operated without incident on these airports, and it is surprising that the TSA appears to have implemented such a significant new mandate with no notification or discussion,” Cebula said.