General aviation leaders trouped up to Capitol Hill late last month to plead with Congress for an audience with President Bush’s security advisors to explain the missions and uses of their segment of the nation’s air transportation system, and to try to head off more permanent and onerous restrictions.
GA, which continues to take unique hits because of government-imposed security restrictions in the aftermath of last month’s terrorist attacks, moved on several fronts to counter the sometimes unfathomable orders that have resulted from the tragedy.
While the Air Line Pilots Association was doing a 180-deg turn on its previous position of not arming pilots of commercial airliners, general aviation merely was asking for a chance to speak with the National Security Council (NSC) or other White House confidants to present a case for lifting some of the more ill-conceived restrictions.
Both FAA Administrator Jane Garvey and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta have acknowledged that the flight restrictions are being imposed by the White House itself in the name of national security and by advisors who apparently are not familiar with general aviation operations. Even the House aviation subcommittee–which boasts a number of GA pilots among its ranks– may not always be completely in the security loop, according to members.
When Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Texas) asked if the subcommittee can “force” the NSC to meet with GA interests, chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) could answer only, “We can try.”
But it was clear that many of the lawmakers are in GA’s corner. “I am very upset about the way general aviation has been treated,” said Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.). “They [the NSC] are making absurd decisions.” Questioning the delay in opening up the skies “for what I think is the safest part of aviation,” he observed that part of it is “just lack of political clout.”
“I believe the problem really speaks to the focus on the airlines as being the air transportation system in this country,” said NBAA president Jack Olcott. “Our aviation system consists of general aviation and the airlines. They are not competitive, they are complementary. And when Congress looks at addressing the issues facing air transportation, we urge them to include general aviation in this mix.”
Ed Bolen, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, conceded that the GA community is not well understood by members of the NSC, and he asked for help from Congress to try to work with the NSC “to try to reopen the airspace as fully as possible and in a manner consistent with national security interests.”
He said that the General Aviation Coalition would be “an appropriate place for us” to work with the National Security Council to try to alleviate their concerns. “The problem is that we don’t understand what all of the threats are.”
Representatives of the GA community continually hammered away that “one size does not fit all” when it comes to aviation security. “We believe the security systems and procedures that are appropriate for the Part 121 and Part 135 communities (the unknown passenger issue) are not appropriate for the Part 91 community (known passengers),” Olcott observed in written testimony supplied to the House aviation subcommittee. “The former group we believe lends itself to ground security systems, such as security devices (X-ray, etc.), while the latter group lends itself to ATC and airspace approaches, such as use of flight plans, transponder codes, corridors and prohibited airspace.”
While the broad-based General Aviation Coalition is already at work on new security measures for its community, the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), which lists many on-demand air charter operators among its membership, already has put together a list of recommendations that it encouraged aviation businesses, their customers and tenants immediately to adopt.
NATA president Jim Coyne told the House panel that the recommendations had already been presented to the FAA, and he reported that they “were pleased.” The measures grew out of a hastily convened meeting of a newly formed NATA Business Aviation Security Task Force in Washington on September 22.
Comprised of more than 60 senior executives from all sectors of general aviation, the task force met to develop “best practice” guidelines for FBOs, air charter companies, aviation maintenance providers and flight-training schools. The recommendations will include a mission statement to assure customers, employees, the government and the nonflying public that safety measures are in place to prevent terrorism through the illegal use of private, corporate, charter and fractional business aircraft.
After listening to presentations from the FBI, the Transportation Department and NASA, the group developed short-term recommendations and announced that it has begun working on near-term (30 to 60 days) and long-term (several months to a year or more) recommendations as well.
Coyne said Mineta has admitted that federal agencies are “clearly going to be tremendously stretched” to deal with airline security, and was “very happy to hear that our industry is working together” in a proactive way, “much as we did in the FOARC [Fractional Ownership Aviation Rulemaking Committee].”
The FAA adopted those recommendations virtually without change and issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that currently is out for public comment. NATA chairman Jim Christiansen, who chaired the FOARC, also is serving as chairman of the security task force, which includes aircraft charter companies, corporate flight departments, fractional providers, aircraft and equipment manufacturers, FBOs, airport management, aviation security experts and representatives from government agencies involved with aviation and public security.
In announcing the immediate recommendations, Coyne said that small businesses must demonstrate their renewed commitment to security “to satisfy their customers, the flying public and federal, state and local authorities that general aviation is safe and does not pose a threat to public safety or national security.”
The task force recommended heightened security procedures for all aviation service businesses, their customers and tenants to adopt, regardless of their size or location. These include:
• Ensuring that all their employees with access to aircraft have FAA-compliant employment background verifications. Heretofore, only those businesses at airports serving scheduled commercial carriers (FAR Part 107 airports) were required to perform background checks–and not necessarily for all employees with ramp access. The task force is “raising the security bar” to include all employees at all airports, and said that FBOs should also require tenants and their employees to conduct similar FAA-compliant verifications. NATA said it would immediately provide FAA-compliant employee background verifications for the aviation service industry.
• Clearly post emergency telephone numbers (police, fire, FBI) around the facility so employees can respond appropriately in the event of trouble.
• Appoint a security coordinator/ trainer to be responsible for maintaining, upgrading and periodically changing security policies and procedures. All employees should be instructed and encouraged to challenge anyone not known to them or without proper identification when seen near aircraft.
• Develop a “security mission statement” and display it in the business lobby. Make the sign large and visible to customers, guests and potential threats. NATA said it will provide guidance to its members on appropriate language.
• At gated airports, verify all vehicles and escort them to their destination.
For flight operations, the task force recommended:
• Inspect a photo ID from all incoming and outgoing flight crews.
• Gather passengers and baggage at one location inside the building. Require the PIC to know all passengers and ensure that no unknown person or property is being loaded aboard.
• If not escorted to the aircraft, visually follow the crew and passengers from the lobby to the aircraft and immediately report any deviations.
• Use security tape on aircraft doors when away from the aircraft and visually inspect wells for tampering prior to reboarding aircraft.
• For any changes in the passenger manifest, request written notification from the company or individual chartering the aircraft.