« The Art of Aviation Security | Main | Corporate Security Program »


By Dave Higdon


Business aviation security issue stagnant


The bad news for 2007 is that none of the lingering business aviation security issues of 2006 changed significantly in the year just passed. The good news: ditto.


With 9/11 now more than five years past, a sense of unhappy stability seems to rest over the issue of general aviation security and, by extension, business aviation security. All those good-old bad issues of the past five years changed not at all in the past 12 months – or, if they did, imperceptibly, at best. And from one perspective, that’s not a bad thing.


That means no new overtures progressed toward imposing airline-style security systems on the nation’s general aviation airports or on business aviation operators. It also means that business aircraft operators well adapted to the status quo don’t face new, unfamiliar systems to complicate the job of moving their people from Point A to Point B.


Continuing Efforts
The Transportation Security Administration renewed funding for its airport-watch hotline and continued to align its airports-security efforts with a revised, renewed Airport Watch Program from AOPA. The 12.5 Security Program remains in effect; the Transportation Security Access Certificate program continues solely as a pilot project for a limited number of airports.


Washington National Airport remains under constraint for privately owned aircraft operators – not, however, for government operated business aircraft. Progressing in 2005 from complete closure, the past year drew only a relative trickle of traffic to DCA – no surprise given the expense and logistics of gaining clearance to fly into the signature airport for the Nation’s Capital.


And the much-maligned Washington Air Defense Identification Zone remains, at least for now, a perpetually “temporary” fact of life – not yet a permanent fixture, as some security authorities would have it.


There’s something to be said for the status quo, noted one association executive. “We at least know where we stand and how to function under this system,” said the official, whose employer prefers he did not to speak for publication.


On another front, however, business interests continue to develop methods for assuring the safety and security of aircraft and airports with an eye toward operators who want to go beyond the best practices endorsed by the TSA.


Where we stand
Aviation group executives routinely admonish their members to “be careful up there” lest an incident draw efforts from those who would greatly restrain private flying. And anytime an accident or incident occurs under unusual circumstances or at a high-visibility locale, the community of private aviators quietly, collectively, holds its breath awaiting the expected fallout.


Such was the case last fall when a baseball pitcher named Cory Lidle died when his Cirrus SR20 crashed into an apartment building on Manhattan’s upper-east side. Local “experts” called for closing the scenic East River corridor that parallels the Island of Manhattan; predictably, Chicago’s ‘never-shy’ mayor, Richard Daily, called for a no-fly zone above his city.


“Security concerns” accompanied a number of calls for more restrictions on private aircraft use over major metropolitan areas. But New York Mayor – and active pilot – Michael Bloomberg voiced the exact opposite sentiment. The National Transportation Safety Board and security authorities quickly determined the crash a tragic accident and the din diminished. Thankfully for private aviators, cooler heads prevailed once again in the aftermath of the Lidle tragedy. But the admonition remains and bears repeating: be extra careful up there. Private aviation’s critics are itching for a way to justify their arguments for curtailing flying freedom. They’ll seize on anything they can, regardless of how inappropriate, inapplicable or incredulous.


Another area with next to no movement: the Washington ADIZ. A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to make permanent this highly controversial airspace attracted thousands of negative responses during the comment period and, so far, there’s been no further movement. Perhaps the best news is that there is no real new news on this front. Perhaps the worst news: ditto.


The NBAA Security Access Certificate Program, for one, could well be a model for providing access to other sensitive airports – if it ever moved beyond the demonstration and test phases to a wider system applicable at airports like, say, DCA.


Security starts at the home – field
Guarding against encroachment by hostile people remains, at its root, an effort that starts at home… or, in the case of private aviation at the home field. The Airport Watch website – www.aopa.org/airportwatch/ – contains a wealth of information on securing airports, hangars, aircraft, student-pilot screening, flight-instructor and flight-school responsibilities in guarding against potential acts of hostility using private aircraft.


Aviators can still report suspicious airport activity via a nationwide hotline, (800) GA-SECURE. A vast majority of the nation’s general aviation airports have taken steps to better secure their facilities.


Corporate flight departments following recommendations in the NBAA’s Best Practices – www.nbaa.org/public/ops/security/bestpractices/ – already have created positions to monitor and oversee their internal security efforts.


Ditto for the majority of corporate-oriented FBOs: No longer is it common place for people to drift through the lounge and out onto the ramp without first facing some form of vetting from someone staffing the counter.


Continuing concerns
Security authorities remain concerned about the potential threat of terrorists chartering an aircraft and commandeering it for nefarious purposes. To that end, the 12.5 Security Program and other efforts – many of them spawned by NATA’s efforts – have helped charter operators create systems for assuring the identity of their passengers.


But this area remains a concern for TSA and others. Some charter operators and FBOs report that they are periodically “probed” by people interested in chartering an aircraft for vague purposes, or using unusual forms of payment. Charter operators have even caught members of the media making their own attempts to thwart safeguards in the interest of producing sensational stories highlighting the alleged threat posed by “unsecured” general aviation operators.


So far, though, the industry’s own efforts seem to be working against these attempted encroachments by both law enforcement and media personnel. But vigilance remains the first and main line of defense against these efforts – and one never really knows when one of those efforts might be something more dangerous than a probing test by security personnel or journalists.


To catch a thief…
The past five years has brought a surge in hardware and systems designed to guard against aircraft theft and the penetration of facilities by unauthorized personnel. We’re not going to try to cover the waterfront here, but two new systems came to our attention at the NBAA Convention last year that warrant mentioning.


The first and most ambitious is the WASP Universal Aircraft Tail Number Identification System from TTI Wireless. Based in Louisburg, North Carolina, TTI Wireless created a system that actually records and matches the registration marks on aircraft transiting its surveillance area.


WASP (Wireless Access Surveillance Platform) employs a network of digital-imaging sensors, character-recognition software and a link to a central database that uses the FAA’s own registry information for identification of aircraft. The WASP system also employs a link to the law-enforcement network local to airports where it’s installed.


In addition to providing alerts and tracking of aircraft movement for security purposes, TTI’s WASP system also offers airport operators in other useful areas – for movement data for use in airport-funding applications, for billing references, even for tracking down violators of local noise-abatement rules. There’s more information available at the company’s website www.ttiwireless.com.


For simply protecting an airplane, the D&K Group of Elk Grove, Illinois, offers a $200 devise designed to assure someone doesn’t “borrow” the company plane – as happened in October 2005, when a young charter pilot “borrowed” a Citation from a Florida airport and used it like a teenager joyriding in a “borrowed” car.


Dubbed simply “The Battery Lock,” this devise installs directly on the battery and renders it useless unless removed by a circular, seven-pin key. The company claims the lock can be installed and removed with one hand, even when reaching blindly into the most-difficult locations where the battery is installed.


Designed to work on all jets and helicopters using a battery with side-mounted contacts, the patented Battery Lock is easily installed. More information is available at www.dkgroup.com.


Looking ahead
As stable as security conditions are now, it’s unlikely things will continue unchanged indefinitely. At some point, the FAA and TSA will return their attention to making the Washington ADIZ a permanent fixture, for example.


According to FAA sources, the last thing we should expect is for the current boundaries to shrink. “For that matter, it’s not a given the ADIZ will change in shape at all, given the workload it imposes on ATC – particularly Potomac Approach,” one source told World Aircraft Sales Magazine. “But don’t for a minute think they (TSA) have forgotten about the ADIZ… and whatever TSA remembers, FAA hears about.”


NBAA and TSA may find a way to advance the Security Access Certificate program beyond it’s pilot-project level. A little more experience might also convince TSA that access to DCA can stand to be relaxed – though most other corners of the capital city’s security apparatus remain dismayed at the access already granted.


So much of what happens next hinges on TSA finally getting stable leadership. The fledgling agency struggled through four changes in leadership in less than four years – in some ways to the benefit of business aviation interests. In the end, though, business aviation is in the best position to provide for its own best security needs.


Providing for its own security stands to help continue the freedom, flexibility and efficiency that are the hallmarks of business aviation operations. And that’s just the way the business aviation community would prefer it.


Hosting by Yahoo!
[ Yahoo! ] options