New badge rule too onerous, says governor

 - May 1, 2009, 7:33 AM

The governor of Montana is the latest to weigh in on a controversial Transportation Security Administration (TSA) directive that would impose new security badge requirements and background checks on general aviation pilots based at commercial-service airports.

In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Montana governor Brian Schweitzer called Security Directive 8F (SD-08F) an “unfunded mandate without clear rationale or justification.” He said the costly requirements would be unduly onerous to GA operations and urged the agency to review the directive.

Under the current version of the directive, which has not been publicly released, pilots based at airline airports are required to undergo a security threat assessment and receive a security badge to continue to have unescorted access to their airports.

General aviation associations have been working with the TSA since the security directive was first released to airport managers in December 2008 and have urged the agency to work with those in the GA industry to develop a plan that is less burdensome and restrictive for pilots. As a result of industry efforts and an outcry from pilots, the agency has pushed back the deadline for compliance to June 1 and has said it would address industry concerns.

In his letter, Schweitzer said the security directive unnecessarily requires GA pilots based at commercial airports to go through a long and costly process to be cleared; this extra “level of bureaucratic supervision” is unnecessary, he said, because “America’s GA pilots have not been shown to be a significant security threat.”

He continued, “Local airports must fund the considerable administrative cost. Many of our small airports, providing essential air service to isolated rural communities, will find this additional and costly requirement onerous and burdensome. If TSA rules, policies and agents are viewed as an expensive, ineffective, bureaucratic nuisance, our general security posture will degrade.”

The mass media also has taken note of the impending rules. The Denver Post reported last month that pilots and support personnel would have to pass a background check at each of the 13 Colorado commercial airports that have scheduled airline service at which they might work. Separate badges are required for each airport.

According to the newspaper, Rene Medina, chief inspector for Western Skyways, a Montrose-based rebuilder of airplane engines with an international customer base, estimated that 65 of the company’s 100 employees will have to receive security badges.

He anticipates the directive will affect anyone who does business at the airport, such as limo drivers and people who manage the vending machines. “Even the guy who delivers us rags will have to have a badge,” Medina told the paper.

Transient pilots without badges or a badge from a different airport must be escorted through the secure areas, whether to the fuel pumps, to maintenance garages or to entrance/ exit gates. The same applies to their passengers and guests.

“It has no commonality,” said Rex Tippetts, director of aviation at Grand Junction’s Walker Field. Individual airports can implement the program as they choose and charge whatever they feel is necessary. Prices range from free at some airports to $130 at Grand Junction.