Incidents test the trigger point of security rules

 - September 28, 2010, 11:19 AM

While business aviation anxiously awaits a new proposal for the Large Aircraft Security Program later this year, general aviation was involved in several security incidents late this summer.

On August 17, two sonic booms startled Seattle-area residents when two F-15s rushed to intercept an airplane that had violated a presidential TFR, underscoring the necessity of checking notams.

While President Obama was in the Sea-Tac region, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (Norad) scrambled two jets from the Oregon National Guard in response to the violation of the TFR about midday. The fighters were unable to intercept the errant aircraft before it departed the restricted airspace, but they reached supersonic speed during the chase.

Calls to 911 related to the resulting sonic booms overloaded the system, shutting it down temporarily, according to local news reports.

“This incident demonstrates how careless mistakes can have far-reaching consequences,” said AOPA vice president of operations and international affairs Craig Spence. “When one pilot makes the news for violating a TFR, it can set back progress we’ve made on improving access for the hundreds of thousands who haven’t.”

General aviation groups have been working with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Secret Service and the FAA to mitigate the impact of presidential and vice presidential TFRs on GA. Recently an increase in the use of gateway airports and screening procedures has allowed pilots access to facilities located within the inner 10-nm-radius area known as the “GA no-fly zone.” But continuing violations might hinder efforts to improve access further.

Obama was in Seattle for a campaign fundraising event for Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). Spence warned that the President may be traveling frequently for campaign events during election season.

When the First Family vacationed in Martha’s Vineyard in late August, gateway airports and screening procedures were created to allow pilots access into Martha’s Vineyard.

In another incident, and through no fault of their own, respected GA industry leaders John and Martha King were met by Santa Barbara, Calif., police brandishing weapons at the end of an IFR flight August 28. The Kings were handcuffed and placed into custody because their leased Cessna 172S was listed in crime databases as stolen.

It turns out that the N-number once belonged to a Cessna 150 that remains missing after it was stolen from McKinney, Texas, in 2002. The number was deregistered in 2005 and reassigned to Cessna Aircraft in 2009. The Kings’ aircraft, first flown by a regional Cessna Pilot Center manager, was stopped by police on its first flight from the factory in 2009.

An FAA spokeswoman said the number has been removed from the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database maintained by the FBI, preventing it from being reported again as stolen. Data contained by the NCIC is provided by the FBI, federal, state, local and foreign criminal justice agencies, and authorized courts. It is not open the public.

Although it is up to local police departments to remove a stolen item from the list when the case is closed, the FAA is considering other measures to prevent innocent people from being stopped at gunpoint in the future. The agency said that its recent mandate for the reregistration of aircraft will help improve the identification of the aircraft.

In a third airspace violation on August 2, the culprit was the U.S. Navy. An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), a helicopter-like Fire Scout, was flying toward downtown Washington at 2,000 feet when operators at Naval Air Station Patuxent River lost their control link.

Navy spokesmen said the Fire Scout was a little more than an hour into a test-flight operation out of the famous Navy flight-test facility along the Chesapeake Bay when operators lost its control link. The drone then flew 23 miles on a north-by-northwest course to enter Washington’s restricted airspace.

A half-hour later, while the military was deciding whether to scramble jets to shoot down the wandering UAV, operators reestablished control and the Fire Scout landed safely back at Pax River. No word on whether the aircraft will be reprimanded.