AOPA's Boyer: "We're On The Right Track"
A new Government
Accountability Office (GAO) report notes that "the small size, lack
of fuel capacity, and minimal destructive power of most general
aviation aircraft make them unattractive to terrorists and,
thereby, reduce the possibility of threat associated with their
misuse." The report concludes that continued partnerships between
the general aviation (GA) industry and the government -– such
as AOPA's Airport Watch program –- are vital to the long term
success of efforts to enhance security at the nation's nearly
19,000 GA landing facilities.
Entitled General Aviation Security: Increased Federal Oversight
is Needed but Continued Partnership with the Private Sector is
Critical to Long-Term Success , the report – the result of
more than a year of study – says that "the public/private
partnership has been strengthened … through the teaming of
TSA (Transportation Security Administration) and general aviation
industry associations," such as AOPA.
"This new GAO report confirms and adds validity to what AOPA and
the GA industry has been saying ever since the September 11
attacks," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "General aviation
airports are so many and so varied that a ‘one-size-fits-all'
security plan is just not feasible."
Just as important as
what the report does say is what it does not say. It does not see
the need for any specific physical security mandates at general
aviation airports. Instead, the GAO's conclusions call for systemic
changes within and better oversight by the TSA and the Federal
Aviation Administration (FAA).
"The fact that several of the recommendations are either already
in place or in the works shows that general aviation security is on
the right track," said Boyer.
As part of the study, the GAO visited 31 GA airports picked for
their variety of physical characteristics and types of operations.
The report found that most of the airport managers it interviewed
had already established a number of security enhancements, using
either airport revenue, or state or federal grant money to fund
some the enhancements. It also noted that many of the airport
managers had sought effective enhancements such as creating or
updating security plans, sharing those plans with tenants, or
arranging for more patrols or an on-site presence of local law
Airport managers have been using risk assessment tools included
in the TSA's Guidelines for General Aviation Airport Security . The
agency developed the tools after consultations with and
recommendations from general aviation industry representatives,
including AOPA, who were part of the Aviation Security Advisory
Committee's Working Group on General Aviation Security.
The report cited the
AOPA Airport Watch program, which it noted had already been
implemented at many of the airports visited, including the use of
signs and posters provided to the airports by AOPA, as well as
training programs such as the Airport Watch video that illustrates
the types of situations for which shows pilots and airport
employees to be alert. AOPA developed Airport Watch in consultation
with TSA, knowing that TSA needed to deal with the larger security
issues at air carrier airports. As part of its contribution to
Airport Watch, TSA provides a nationwide toll-free hotline
(866-GA-SECURE), staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for pilots
and airport personnel to report suspicious activity.
In addition, the report said, many pilots have taken unilateral
actions to prevent unauthorized use of their aircraft, such as
using prop or throttle locks, or locking their aircraft in
The GAO report chided the FAA for not developing a standardized,
documented way to review and revalidate security-related temporary
flight restrictions (TFRs) in order to determine their
effectiveness and whether or not they are still needed. It noted
that the number of TFR violations is up since the September 11,
2001, terrorist attacks, as are the number and severity of
disciplinary actions, however 95-percent of the violations involve
either presidential security-related or national security-related
TFRs, many of which are issued with limited advance notice.
It also noted the economic hardships such TFRs cause, both for
aviation-related businesses within, and aircraft trying to fly
into, out of, or through the affected area. The GAO report cited a
study which indicates that GA pilots, passengers, and businesses
have lost more than $1 billion since the September 11 attacks due
to increased costs, lost revenues and additional operating
The GAO says the FAA needs to develop and implement a method for
reviewing and revalidating TFRs, especially those issued for
indefinite periods, such as the Baltimore-Washington air defense
identification zone (ADIZ).
"AOPA worked closely with Congress on the Vision 100 FAA
Reauthorization Act of 2003 to include language that requires the
Department of Transportation to re-justify the need for the ADIZ to
Congress every 60 days," said Boyer. "This new GAO report expands
on that, urging the FAA to come up with a standardized method for
evaluating whether or not a flight restriction should be
established, and if it is, whether it should be continued."
The GAO report stated that the TSA faces a significant challenge
when trying to communicate warnings to the general aviation
"Timely, specific, and actionable information are three key
principles of effective risk communication," the report notes. Part
of the problem is the general, non-specific nature of much of the
anti-terrorist intelligence gathered. However, it goes on to say,
"the more detailed and specific the threat information, the more
likely the information is classified, and, therefore, not available
to those without appropriate security clearances."
The task of risk
communication is further complicated, the report states, by the
lack of an accurate, complete list of contacts for all of the
approximately 5,000 public use and 14,000 private use GA landing
Specifically, the GAO report contains five specific
- TSA should develop a risk management plan that helps airports
- TSA should apply risk communication principles including
specific threat information.
- FAA should develop plan for reviewing and revalidating flight
- TSA needs to better monitor foreign nationals learning to fly
in the United States.
- TSA and FAA need to review process for issuing waivers to enter
Two of the recommendations – monitoring foreign national
flight students and reviewing the waiver process – were
included in a classified version of the GAO report.
The TSA's alien flight training rule, which was issued after the
GAO study was completed and on which AOPA is working closely with
TSA to refine and repair problems in the regulatory language, may
ultimately address the first of the GAO's classified
"When all is said and done, this is a very positive report for
general aviation," said Boyer. "It proves that our approach –
a cooperative effort that draws on the government's security
expertise and the GA industry's aviation expertise – is the
best approach for making sure terrorists won't be able to use our
world-class general aviation system against us."