TSA may change LASP

 - June 29, 2009, 11:16 AM

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) appears to be taking seriously the 7,000-plus submitted comments opposing the proposed large aircraft security program (LASP) regulations. John Sammon, TSA assistant administrator for transportation sector network management, soothed attendees at the NATA Air Charter Summit last month when he said, “We rely to a large extent on NATA members for developing operational solutions. What we’re trying to do is put things in place that work in the real world. Except for running checkpoints, TSA doesn’t do security in the real world. You do it.” The TSA’s focus, he said, is on deploying security efforts that are “operation-ally feasible” and on working with NATA to solve security problems.

After the NPRM comment period closed and the TSA held public meetings to solicit more comments, the agency invited aviation associations to two meetings–on April 6 and May 6–to discuss the LASP proposal. At those meetings, the TSA asked the associations, “What would you do if you were going to design a general aviation security program?”

Sammon summarized some key points that came out of those meetings, indicating areas where the TSA will likely focus in the next version of the LASP NPRM:
• What is a large aircraft? While the proposed 12,500-pound threshold makes sense from an FAA standpoint, does it make sense for security? A study was done by the Homeland Security Institute examining the kinetic energy of business aircraft based on size, speed and fuel load and modeling the effect of aircraft hitting buildings. This could lead to the rule establishing fuel load as the criterion for applicability rather than aircraft weight.
• The concept of the “trusted pilot” is being considered. This would establish minimum criteria for a pilot to be considered trusted, for example, a commercial pilot certificate or a certain number of flight hours. The trusted-pilot concept would help avoid the disruption of having to check the backgrounds of pilots flying large aircraft or Part 91 operations, and a similar system could be used to eliminate some vetting of passengers.
• The TSA is looking at adding general aviation to its Secure Flight program instead of allowing third-party companies to conduct watch-list checking, if required. This would allow operators to conduct the checks themselves.
• The LASP proposal addresses airport security, but only at certain busier airports and at a high cost to these airports. “What we’re really trying to do here is secure the large aircraft, not the airport,” Sammon said. The focus then shifts to physically securing an unattended business jet, and this can easily be done with simple throttle and wheel locks, as Sammon learned during a visit to Gulfstream Aerospace.
• The prohibited-items list remains a major source of negative comments about the LASP proposal. Sammon admitted that the TSA simply adopted the prohibited items list from commercial aviation, without consideration for how business aircraft are operated. “If you have a trusted pilot with trusted passengers,” he said, “does he really care if Tiger Woods is on board with his golf clubs?” What the TSA is really concerned about is a general aviation aircraft bringing an item prohibited to be carried on airline aircraft to an airline-served airport. What might resolve this concern is a secure chain of custody for a customer carrying such an item from the aircraft to the FBO and away from the airport.

Input from Other Entities

The next step in the LASP process was a meeting held in the middle of June seeking input from other entities involved in general aviation security and safety, including those who protect the national capital airspace, the Secret Service, Department of Defense and safety experts. The TSA will take this information and either revise the current LASP proposal or write a new NPRM, Sammon said.

Another security issue has been the TSA’s issuance of Security Directive (SD) 1542-04-08G (a revised version of 08F). The new SD, effective on June 1, still requires airport badging (including background checks) for based tenants at particular airports where there is airline service. Transient pilots do not need badges at each airport but will have to remain within their aircraft’s and the FBO’s footprint at all times.

“We’ll continue to work with everyone in the community,” Sammon said, “to make sure what we put out is operationally effective and makes sense.”