Despite its unpopularity with business and general aviation, the Transportation Security Administration’s proposed Large Aircraft Security Program (Lasp) was created based on actual risks and intelligence, according to Kip Hawley, the agency’s chief from 2005 to 2009.
“There was real concern that a large business aviation aircraft would be used in attack,” said Hawley in an interview to promote his new book, Permanent Emergency: Inside the TSA and the Fight for the Future of American Security.
In 2008, when Lasp was first proposed, the TSA was concerned that terrorists could see GA aircraft as more vulnerable, thus making them attractive targets. If hijacked and used as a missile, the TSA surmised, these aircraft would be capable of inflicting significant damage.
It was hard to strike a balance between the TSA’s need for security and the industry’s needs, said Hawley. “Our primary concern was for incoming aircraft from overseas,” he said. “But the idea of screening people as they got on private jets didn’t make sense for the vast majority of airplanes.”
Hawley said it would have been better to focus on business aviation pilots. “If you knew who the pilot was, you could take that pilot’s proxy on who gets on the aircraft,” he observed. “Reducing [business aviation security] to a rule was a big problem.”
After a series of public hearings and nearly 7,500 mostly negative comments on the Lasp notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), the TSA finally met with the industry to help draft a more practical and manageable supplemental NPRM. As of December 2011, the agency was working with the Department of Homeland Security to create a revised proposal to submit to the Office of Management and Budget for review, where it is still pending.
“Using a regulatory approach brings problems for the industry and it doesn’t work for security or finding terrorists,” Hawley stated. “It would have certainly been better if we could have worked things out together with local airports and law enforcement” in the beginning.
The TSA and industry should have focused more on creating a security system that could be sustained and that terrorists could not predict, said Hawley. “This was an approach for GA that would have worked and taken the heat out of the arguments against Lasp,” he observed. “Instead, we wrote a rule that found millions of holes and got twisted around. Where we are today is proof of that.”
One can easily figure out the size of an aircraft and its potential threat, said Hawley. “Small aircraft present much less risk than larger ones, so we have a basis to draw a line to do security measures,” he said.
During his tenure, Hawley said, he tried to focus on implementing new and real risk management approaches. “The only way to do that is to do something dramatic to show the public that the agency was in tune to real risks,” he said. “In the book, I released declassified information that showed why we did what we did.”