TSA’s security plan worries operators of large helicopters

 - February 20, 2009, 6:30 AM

The Transportation Security Administration’s Large Aircraft Security Program (LASP) proposal has received criticism from industry groups and operators of helicopters weighing more than 12,500 pounds. Operators have called the proposal “oppressive” and have expressed concern about the future of general aviation security.

One of the biggest complaints about the proposal is the weight threshold. At a public hearing at Westchester County Airport in New York, National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) president and CEO Ed Bolen said the threshold is unrealistic. “Make no mistake about it: the ‘large aircraft’ security program will apply to some very small aircraft,” Bolen said. “The weight threshold needs to be substantially raised.”

Robert Truckenmiller, director of ops for Weatherstone Air, a Part 91 AgustaWestland AW139 operator, told HAI Convention News that the 12,500-pound threshold is “an arbitrary number. There’s not a lot of damage that we can do that a Cessna 150 can’t do,” he said. “It isn’t near what you can do with a large airliner.”

Some worry the plan could eventually ensnare even more helicopters, but according to Michal Morgan, the TSA’s general manager of business operations, there are no plans to lower the weight threshold. “Right now, what’s being proposed is for aircraft over 12,500 pounds,” Morgan said. “We’ve asked for specific comments, [and] we’re hoping to have some constructive feedback about the threshold that’s been proposed.” The TSA estimates that approximately 200 rotorcraft will be affected by the proposal.

In addition to questioning the weight threshold, operators also worry that the LASP security proposal will be too intrusive and will disrupt operations. “We think it’s a very oppressive plan that they have,” Truckenmiller said. “We get a lot of last-minute, very short-duration-type trips. If this proposal goes through as they’re trying to outline it, it will make it almost impossible for these last-minute trips to go on.”

NBAA also questioned whether TSA understands the nature of general aviation operations. “Comparing commercial operations to business aviation operations would be like comparing a city bus operation to the way a private company might use a passenger van for its internal operations,” Bolen said. “Knowing everything there is to know about who your passenger is changes everything. The proposed rule doesn’t seem to recognize that fact.”

Despite the criticisms from operators, Morgan stressed that the proposal would not put undue pressure on flight departments. The proposal would not require “criminal checks on the passengers,” she said. “The proposal is to check passenger names against the TSA watch list. Obviously there would be privacy protections associated with the checking of that information.”

The charter community is already subject to those requirements, she said, and they have been “able to process that in a fairly expeditious manner and without disrupting the flight. I believe that would be that the case with what we have proposed.”

A third complaint is the potential cost associated with the proposal, which could potentially “destroy flight departments,” Truckenmiller said. “From what I understand, it’s been almost universal disapproval of this whole plan, not to mention all the extra costs that are involved to satisfy the proposals they have. We’re hoping they’re going to see reason and listen to the operators.”

Morgan urged operators to continue submitting comments so each issue can be addressed. “Obviously with any new program we have to work with the operators to help them comply and determine whether there are any alternative procedures required for their specific type of operation and how a specific type of security program will affect that operation.”

The comment period for the proposed regulations ends on February 27.