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Sun, Mar 08, 2009

Is TSA Readying An All-Out Attack On GA Access To American Airports?

One Pilot's On-Scene Report Signals New and Draconian TSA Efforts To Severely Limit GA Freedoms

ANN E-I-C Note: The following email is real and has been verified as being the work-product/personal report of a pilot (who has asked for anonymity) that attended a recent TSA meeting in Montrose, CO, in which new and mostly unreported TSA controls were discussed that spell incredible trouble for the aviation world... no matter who they may be. Outside of some minor grammar/presentation issues, the email has NOT been edited and has been republished below so that the thoughts and observations of one alarmed citizen may be read in their true and unadulterated form. ANN, of course, will have far more to report on this and associated issues shortly, but suffice it to say that this nation's so-called Transportation Security Administration is totally out of control and continues to threaten the freedoms of every pilot and aviation professional in the nation. -- Jim Campbell, ANN Editor-In-Chief.

Subject: The TSA and MTJ (Montrose, Colorado Airport) 

It seems "they" are at it again. We were told AOPA was quite unaware of this Special Directive
 
While I am not the MTJ rep, and do not know who is (maybe you could tell me) I attended, though I am the [ID information redacted], with some 60 plus others tonight, a meeting no one had even heard about until two days ago. And really only email amongst folks on the field and the EAA chapter caused anyone to be there. It was a full house, even though the address given was incorrect. I would guess the average age was 50 with a lot of former military and airline pilots in attendance, or folks having other long time security clearances professionally, and who were a bit amazed at all this. Nearly all pilots.

Four TSA reps were there from Grand Junction, we think that is where they were from: Rennie (sp?) Dunn, Chris Putnam, Dick Wiles and a Peter Cook. Two never said a word, Wiles offered two or three sentences, and Rennie carried the freight. They all left in the same US Govt black SUV. One was reputed to be a former special forces Lt Col in the mid east and therefore familiar with security concerns. Frankly, none were very impressive but on the other hand, they had been volunteered for a clearly thankless role.
 
The basic overall concept is another "Federal Unfunded Mandate" which several in the crowed noted, in this case known as a Security Directive affecting all individuals having access to commercial service airports to become effective April 30.

Anyone wishing access after that date must, on only four near term days, apply on a preliminary basis for security threat screening. Those dates are 2/25/ 2/28 3/4 and 3/7.
 
Anyone not able to be present on those four near term dates must pay a $50 fee to begin the screening process. Persons must bring approved identification from the approved list to be found at www.montroseairport.com
 
Reportedly the SD is fourteen pages, but no one except the TSA is allowed to know what the rules are, as we ALL understood it, until or unless you break one of the rules. Each of the four TSA people there acknowledged they had seen the document. A Catch 22 - Alice in Wonderland moment.

A question was raised, what redress or appeal process is available. The answer was surely it would be reasonably handled.
 
A local prominent attny who was a former prosecuting attny opined that not only is this all backwards, in his view it was simply unconstitutional.
 
It presently appears that anyone on the ramp without a TSA ID is subject to fines or convictions in unknown amounts and arrest or detainment by unknown persons as it seems not to be known how enforcement will be conducted, or by whom. The sole female TSA person, I could not fathom or match the persons to the names, quietly said, the one time she even dared look at the crowd, that patrolling would likely be random and infrequent. Or something very like that.
 
Of course the question was then raised, why bother. No answer.

It further appears that each airport will need to conduct is own application and fee process and then TSA will do the screening. It further appears that each of the 450 commercially served airports will have to issue its own security badges, raising a bit of an issue for those who are professional pilots, travel to more than one airport, or, put rather dramatically, stop for fuel at self service pumps. The self service fuel vendor from Grand Junction, Colo traveled down to this meeting and advised that at a similar meeting yesterday, the first time fee for a screening and badge there will be $175 per person. Montrose said their first badge will be free, and subsequent ones on expiry of the first will be an as yet unknown amount. I myself flew three states last weekend. The west is a bit larger than the area within the beltway.
 
One fellow asked why not have identical badges at all airports so folks know what to look for.
 
One on field commercial operator said it would be cost prohibitive for all employees who might escort someone to be screened and badged. And there are certainly are no excess personnel available for such duty. The airport manager then volunteered the same answer for his staff.
 
A couple of ag spray operators who necessarily fly into a variety of airports here, and are always on call from various counties, were a bit troubled by the multiple badge requirement, and since they often are called out to do SEAT wildland fire fighting as first responders, (until from what I can see the BLM can figure out what to do,) they felt that waiting for a badge to get fuel and slurry water might be just a bit of an issue. How are they to anticipate where to apply, in advance? No answer. Multiple pleas were made of one badge, nationally, and the response was that concept would be taken back for discussion.
 
A local Colorado Dept of Wildlife pilot felt it might be a bit of a burden to get credentials from all his typical airports, plus those for the areas served by the other three pilots when they are on vacation, or out of town, not to mention the economic costs, or the time to go and apply at different places, etc.
 
Several FBO employees or free lance mechanics, or the Western Skyways Engine shop to which has customer s routinely coming in from Brazil, Mexico and other south and central American countries, were told, directly, they will need to staff and accompany anyone not credentialed who is on the field. All of course said this would break them financially, and the self fuel operators said they too could not staff a self fuel op 24 x 7.
 
It is clear the Montrose Airport Appreciation day, when several hundred people visit with old classic cars, motorcycles, balloon rides, flybys, the LIONS cooking hotdogs and burgers to raise funds, homebuilts on display, Civil Air Patrol handling off tarmac vehicle parking and on tarmac crowd control, Americana if you will, could be a bit of an issue and the TSA suggested local law enforcement could somehow staff the escort necessities on the field. How exactly do you escort a large milling crowd? As it happens, I am also the [ID information redacted]. We typically have about 100 Young Eagles we fly with a variety of pilots on those fall days, and as a general rule, with mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers; you could expect maybe 300 or more people in the course of a day, not to mention grand parents, media folk, etc as a part of that operation.
 
Montrose airport serves the ski crowd, and movie stars going to Telluride, when A.) the particular aircraft can not get into Telluride due to size or B.) Weather. And that field is to close shortly for extended runway re-work. The Montrose FBO asked how he was to possibly monitor 30 limousines simultaneously, not to mention accompanying or escorting anyone within the vehicles, apart from getting changing and independent drivers to apply for credentials. I have seen easily 30 limos there myself, this is not an exaggeration, may be an understatement.
 
Questions were raised about what is or are the levels of thresholds for pass/fail on a security clearance, no answer.
 
One asked the TSA folk to verify the fine was $10,000 a day. They could not verify anything they said. Might be less.
 
Questions were raised about whether a DUI or childhood infraction would be cause for a turndown, no answer.
 
A question was raised whether an existing fire arm permit would be adequate. (Presumably concealed but unclear.) No answer.
 
Questions were raised about whether if a person were to escort someone who had failed a clearance, but the escorter, not the escortee, did not know it, if that escorting person would be charged with a violation? (How were they to conduct their own clearances?) No answer.
 
Questions were raised about how many persons one with a security badge could escort. No answer. It is being looked at….
 
Questions were raised about on field ppties or buildings with ramp access and non-secure or public access, i.e. two doors on opposite sides of a building, were to be dealt with, and the answer was the doors must all be locked and monitored, or screened. The following question arose, what if a mechanic was in or under a plane servicing it, and someone undetected walked through, who was liable. The impression was the County might be liable.
 
An unfielded question was raised, what if locking doors is in violation of the national or local fire code that all doors must be unlocked during business hours…
 
Questions were raised about whether this was wheels or boots on the tarmac, and which would constitute a violation. NO answer.
 
Questions were raised why an existing Federal ID, was not adequate, say a pilots license, perhaps with a security clearance stamp on the corner. NO answer.
 
Questions were raised why not a national one time clearance for all airports, no answer.
 
Questions were raised about how it would be possible to get all this done by the deadline, no answer. There were ambivalent responses that this was only version F or G and that further "refinements" were likely.
 
Questions were raised about how this was all to be paid for; the answer was the County or City that owned the airport. The airport manager made it clear, especially in these economic times; they simply could not pay for this.
 
Questions were raised that since by far the largest part of the airfield is surrounded by old tired three strand barb wire fence, why require all the pilots and assorted folks to go through the clearance process, when anyone could simply walk onto the field. Answer County responsibility to build new fences. County has been trying to expand what is there, but there are of course multiple demands for funds.
 
No one thought to ask what would happen if the hundreds of dairy cattle immediately north of the field were to break down the fence and an unauthorized herdsman were to enter the field to keep cattle off the runway.
 
Questions were raised about any cost-benefit analysis. No answer.
 
Questions were raised about any risk-benefit analysis. No answer.
 
Questions were raised about the likely source (s) of risk. No answer.
 
Questions were raised about what good can any of this possibly do. No answer.
 
Questions were raised about how this Directive was promulgated, and by whom, no real answer except it was signed off on by the Bush TSA administrator.
 
Questions were raided about how to contact someone who knew at least some of the answers. No answer.
 
Questions were raised about how this clearance would rate as compared to the various ranges of FBI clearances, no answer.
 
Questions were raised about whether any of the four TSA folks had pilot licenses and current medicals, none were current or active.
 
It appeared these four were selected to stand in front of the pilot question firing squad, and they acted appropriately enthused.
 
One young lady said if as a part of her job she would have to get a clearance and badge, free at first, then renewing, she could not afford to work at her wage at the airport.
 
Several questions were raised about what event caused this directive to be promulgated; we were told they could not answer.
 
Questions were raised about what would happen if a transient pilot landed, needed unknown repairs, or fuel, walked about the ramp without clearance, trying to find a shop or mechanic, and each turned the pilot away and would not escort him to wherever, were they liable? No answer.
 
Questions were raised about what would happen if a pilot landed, say at night, at an unattended field except maybe the tower, if there even were one, and needed fuel, and were spotted by a local police or sheriff. What was either the pilot or sheriff to do? No answer.
 
The six county representative for the newly appointed Senator Michael Bennett was in attendance, made a few notes, and urged a group letter or email, not individual contacts, and assured the crowd the Senator would not see individual contacts but would be aware of a group letter from someone on his staff.
 
Virtually every commercial operator said the plan, to the extent it was disclosed, was either totally unworkable, or will bankrupt them. One self service fuel vender said it would immediately break them. Some noted this was not highly desirable for the vendor, the pilot, or the national financial recovery.
 
A comparison was made between this directive and early TFR's which had no areas defined, and were not published anywhere, until AOPA began publishing them, but pilots were advised they would be dealt with harshly if they violated those unpublished TFR's since release of the data was secret and a national security issue..
 
The TSA lead suggested pilots look at the World Aeronautical Guide to see what airports had commercial service before landing. Several pilots said what were they to do if weather, turbulence or lack of in in-flight Guide, or inability to read it and fly the plane simultaneously, and in-flight mechanical issues were to cause them to make a precautionary landing at an unplanned airport for which they had no badge.. No answers.
 
It was noted this concept was brought by the Dept of Homeland Security whose first head on national TV proposed everyone getting visqueen and duct tape to wrap their houses against chemical attacks, and the TSA who mandated a certain very ill considered pistol holster for Federal Flight Deck Officers, which most thoughtful and knowledgeable gun folk thought was sure to result in accidental discharge, and did, in an Airbus, by a captain who was nearly brought up on charges til covert circulation of an actual demonstration of how this gun would have inevitably been accidentally fired.
 
A wide variety of questions were posed as to whether the TSA or Department of Homeland Security had really thought all this through. No real answer.
 
I raised the question of if there are some 600,000 licensed pilots, and untold numbers of passengers, limo drivers and their passengers, mechanics, vendors, etc why not have the TSA and FAA do a mass clearance by pilots' licenses, rather than all these one off clearances nationwide, which would be far more efficient, with a high volume and low cost per pilot, paid for by the TSA, not the Counties, or pilots, and at least get those 600,000 clearances to people statistically unlikely to be a problem, then move on to all the other groups. NO answer, except it appeared the TSA said they had no funding. Actually, who does?

What is the estimated cost? Aren't new proposals supposed to be accompanied by reasonably estimated cost?
 
There were a variety of questions and intramural mumbling about how effectiveness could be measured, whether a program this dumb could be continued, and whether the real goal, perhaps by the commercial carriers, was either to kill off general aviation, or at least get it totally off the 450 air carrier airports? No answer.
 
A question, by a recently former US Army helicopter pilot, how long would it take to get clearances, now, or subsequently, if an ID/clearance was needed for a new or differing airport, where access was needed? No answer?
 
A question was raised about whether local police, sheriffs, fire dept or their volunteers would need clearance to get on the field. The answer seemed to be, probably not.
 
It was clear the airport manager and county commissioner were trying to be gracious in view of a new surprise regulation, for which they too were not given any or many answers, but were supposed to somehow make work, and fund, when they are already unable to fix roads, bridges, human services etc. They made it abundantly clear, they did not see how they could fund or staff badging on an ongoing basis, much less the escort issue.
 
A former county commissioner who does a great deal of heavy and timely airfreight shipments, asked how that was to be done with a variety of vendors or delivery services coming to the field with differing drivers at all hours that needed access to load planes. No real answer on how he could continue to ship.
 
I could go on but I can not recall with any specificity all the issues raised, I might be able to identify and get you a contact for one person who worked feverishly to record it all on a laptop. The meeting, opened by one Montrose County Commissioner, was really rather civil, which that commissioner and the airport manager both charged the crowd to be. In view of the near total lack of answers, or real responsiveness, this was remarkable. It certainly did not inspire confidence in the TSA or Homeland Security folk.
 
This was not TSA's finest hour.
 
Hope this representative recollection helps. I am sure I overlooked some things, and could not hear others.

FMI: www.tsa.gov, www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/constitution.overview.html

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