DHS Wants To Know Who's Flying Into US On Small Planes
Booming sales of business jets have
been attributed in part to business executives trying to bypass the
inconvenience of traveling through commercial airports. But the
growing number of business jets outside North America looks like a
security threat to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff,
who fears terrorists could exploit general aviation to bring in a
dirty bomb or biological weapons.
Chertoff told USA Today on Monday DHS will undertake a sweeping
review of airport security screening over the next 30 to 45 days,
to try to ease passenger hassles, but also to focus more on the
threat of attacks by private jets from overseas.
Chertoff says he wants the Transportation Security
Administration to "...take a look at the whole system of screening
at the airport. We're going to see if we can maybe make a couple of
significant changes to remove some of the burden."
As for small jets arriving from elsewhere, Homeland Security
will issue requirements for crews and passengers of private jets to
provide their names, birthdates and other information an hour
before takeoff, so they can be checked against terrorist watch
lists. Screening of aircraft and passengers by US Customs agents
before they depart for the US could be next.
Chertoff told USA Today he grew more concerned about the issue
last year when a senior executive of a private-jet company told
him, "I don't know who the heck gets on my planes, and it worries
DHS issued its proposal for tightening requirements in
September, calling for operators of private aircraft entering or
exiting the US to submit via the Internet detailed information,
such as passenger manifests, at least one hour prior to crossing
the US border.
The general aviation community quickly criticized that plan. In
December, the Experimental Aircraft Association -- in another sign
of solidarity among GA "letter groups" -- noted such a requirement
for bizjet operators could prove to be "unworkable" -- as most
foreign GA landing facilities lack the necessary Internet,
cellular, or international phone line capabilities.
In a similar vein, homeland security consultant Randall Larsen
says Chertoff's plan would be ineffective against terrorists headed
to the US from remote locations in Africa or Latin America. "Bono
and Bill Gates would be prevented from smuggling a nuke into the
US, but a terrorist with a nuke in a Gulfstream who takes off from
a remote airfield in Africa or Latin America ... would have no
problem getting it to DC," Larsen charged. "Let's just hope the
terrorists fly out of (London's) Heathrow."
Chertoff countered Larsen's assertion by noting if you try
entering US airspace without clearance, "you will not make it into
the US without being greeted by a couple of F-16s."
So far, Chertoff has resisted calls for airline-like screening
of passengers and small aircraft on domestic flights.