With recent terrorist attacks around the world, there is an obvious need for business aircraft operators to ensure a safe environment for their customers, the owners and passengers who pay the bills. After all, that is why they use general aviation instead of more public forms of transport. Yet at least in the U.S., guidance from federal authorities, especially the FAA, has been notably lacking.
Here is what the FAA issued last week after the Brussels airport and railway attacks:
!FDC 6/8818 FDC …SPECIAL NOTICE…IN THE INTEREST OF NATIONAL
SECURITY AND TO THE EXTENT PRACTICABLE, PILOTS AND UAS OPERATORS ARE
STRONGLY ADVISED TO AVOID THE AIRSPACE ABOVE OR IN CLOSE PROXIMITY
TO CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE AND OTHER SENSITIVE LOCATIONS SUCH AS
POWER PLANTS (NUCLEAR, HYDRO-ELECTRIC, OR COAL), DAMS, REFINERIES,
INDUSTRIAL COMPLEXES, MILITARY FACILITIES, CORRECTIONAL AND LAW
ENFORCEMENT FACILITIES UNLESS OTHERWISE AUTHORIZED. PILOTS AND UAS
OPERATORS SHOULD NOT CIRCLE AS TO LOITER IN THE VICINITY OVER THESE
TYPES OF FACILITIES.
Now this is good advice, if you’re trying to help pilots avoid getting caught doing something that appears to be suspicious. Likewise, the FAA might as well have told us, don’t bust a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) or make sure you’re wearing your SIDA badge when you enter Secure Identification Display Area airports. However, as advice to help general aviation participants prevent a terrorist act, this “special notice” is completely useless.
I spent some time looking at the FAA and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) websites and Googling “general aviation security” and found a surprising lack of useful information. There is nothing on the FAA.gov homepage mentioning anything about security. Searching the word “security” in the search box produced a bunch of results of dubious value. Nowhere on the FAA website could I find a simple outline of recommended security practices for general aviation operators.
Looking at the TSA website, I found something encouraging, a “general aviation” section. Oh, but that is completely useless, too. All it contains are links to applying for TFR waivers, the DCA Access Standard Security Program (highly useless on its own, but that’s another story) and the so-called Maryland Three Program, which outlines a process for flying into and out of three Maryland airports in close proximity to Washington, D.C., something that a tiny number of pilots actually need to know about.
Further nosing around revealed this Department of Homeland Security website (Preventing Terrorism and Enhancing Security), but all of the TSA-related the links are broken, so obviously no one is keeping this information fresh.
The lack of information from our government is shocking, to say the least. And the FAA’s issuance of the above special notice shows that the agency still has its head in the sand regarding important security issues. Telling pilots not to fly suspiciously does not help educate the general aviation community about how to prevent a terrorist act. That is just as ridiculous as claiming that TFRs prevent terrorism. Actual education on security best practices is needed and would be welcomed.
If you are looking for real information on general aviation security, here are some resources the FAA could simply have disseminated.
We have been lucky, and general aviation has not–yet–been involved in a terrorist act. But we must remain vigilant. Our airports, especially those with no passenger service, remain easily accessible. The time to prepare is now, not after something tragic happens.