One bad apple can spoil it for the rest of GA

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Just as the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) was getting a leg up on security with the signing of a homeland security bill that includes a program called Transportation Security Administration Access Certificate (STAAC), up pops a corporate pilot who allegedly steals a Cessna Citation jet. This was just one of a series of questionable actions making it more difficult for general aviation groups to convince anyone that flying should stay normal even under current security risks.

STAAC (pronounced “”See-Tac””) is a voluntary program that NBAA worked out with the Transportation Security Administration to have background checks on flight and ground crew personnel, passenger and baggage screening, and other security actions. With a certificate, the flight has access to TFRs and generally flies the same as an airline. So far, 24 companies have earned the certificate.

The bill signed by the president urges TSA to move forward in expanding the program. It is doubtful, however, that STAAC can be used by the typical general aviation pilot.

It seems when GA takes one step forward in security matters, it also takes a step backwards because of some prank or careless act by a pilot. There have been hundreds of violations of the Washington ADIZ by either careless or uninformed pilots. In Wausau, Wisconsin, a 16-year-old student pilot took a Cessna 150 and allegedly buzzed a high school night football game, dropping down to only about 150 feet above trees near the stadium, according to witnesses. Although holding only a student certificate, the pilot had another 16-year-old boy in the plane with him. Last June a 20-year-old student pilot allegedly stole a Cessna 172 and went on a drunken joyride.

For the groups trying to defend general aviation from more stringent regulations, these and similar actions can be explained to some degree by citing that the typical general aviation airplane cannot carry a load large enough to be a danger. But a Cessna Citation — that’s a different story. With a useful load of more than 7,000 pounds, that size airplane can’t be explained away so easily.

Why would a corporate pilot allegedly steal a Cessna Citation Jet and take five friends for a joy ride in the middle of the night? That question baffles the parents of Daniel Wolcott, whose father is also a corporate pilot and whose grandfather was a pilot.

Daniel Wolcott — also known as Andrew — and his father were in St. Augustine, Florida, waiting overnight to take out two separate corporate flights. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Andrew got word that his flight, which he had expected to take out on Sunday, had been postponed until Monday. He went to the airport, allegedly took the Citation, flew off and reportedly called five of his friends to take a ride. As a known corporate pilot he had access to the airport, and, as most pilots know, also was aware how easily most general aviation aircraft can be broken into.

Many in official security positions realize general aviation is not a major threat. Yet, it is difficult to relax restrictive actions when high visibility actions such as these gain general public attention and show the potential of what could happen if the wrong people decide to use GA as a weapon.

Actions to increase security on the New York City subway system and to close the Baltimore Harbor tunnels because of reported threats indicate the lengths to which security goes in this terrorist war. They also show that security is moving into many walks of life and will be there for years to come.

All activities are subject to security measures. The more a few general aviation users refuse to use common sense, the more difficult they are making it for all users of general aviation.

Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.

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